From: Graham Watson MEP Constituency Office
To: Roger Lovejoy
Sent: Friday, July 12, 2002 1:22 PM
Subject: RE: 1% of what?

Reference Number: 434/02

Dear Mr Lovejoy,

Thank you for your email regarding the two directives on traceability and labelling of GM foods (COM 2001 425) and food safety in GM food and feed (COM 2001 182).

With regard to the issue of threshold levels for "adventitious or technically unavoidable" unauthorised GM material present in food and feed, Liberal Democrats tabled amendments to delete any reference to such unauthorised GMOs, and supported further amendments, which seek to do the same in both proposals. Allowing such a threshold for GMOs not authorised in the Community would simply undermine the European Union's legislation on biosafety and constitute a threat to public health. When the Parliament voted on this issue on 3rd July, all references to unauthorised GMOs were deleted.

Concerning the threshold limits of GM material approved by the EU, the Commission's proposal states a level of up to 1% can be present before labelling of the food product is necessary. Liberal Democrats consider this figure to be too high in some cases and have tabled amendments which state that to guarantee food safety and for the purposes of traceability and labelling, the lowest achievable tolerance level should be established on a product-by-product basis, taking into account the most recent developments in science and technology. This would then allow for the threshold to be much lower than 1% where biologically possible. In some cases it is not as easy to have a low threshold, as it is not possible for example to detect GMOs within products like sugar. The threshold limit of 0.5% or lower where technically possible was in fact passed in the vote on 3rd July for adventitious or technically unavoidable presence of GM material.

In the case of animal products such as meat, milk and eggs from animals fed at any stage on GM feed, Liberal Democrats finally voted against labelling these products because this risked extending the extent of GM labelling to the point where it will be difficult to find anything which does not have a GM label saying, 'This product contains (ingredient) derived from an animal fed with genetically modified feed'. This would have taken away real consumer choice by making shopping too confusing. Moreover, since GMOs cannot be detected in these products, it would have left us vulnerable to fraud.

Liberal Democrats supported amendments which went through to extend the scope of the proposals to products produced from GMOs regardless of whether they are detectable in the final product, therefore highly refined soya and maize oils for example would be authorised and labelled accordingly.

I hope that this explanation addresses your concerns. Please find below the speech, my Liberal Democrat MEP colleague, Chris Davies made to Parliament on 2nd July on these reports.

Yours sincerely,

Graham Watson MEP
Leader of the Liberal Democrat and Reform Party in the European Parliament

GMO Plenary Speech: 2nd July 2002

Davies (ELDR). - Mr President, concerns about the effects of GMOs on human health are in the minds of many of us overshadowed by doubts about their effects upon other species of plants or animal life and about the control of the world's seed bank by a handful of companies. But it is animal and human health which is the issue before us and the ELDR Group is united in its belief that products need to be clearly labelled so that consumers can make proper choices.

We are, however, divided about the clearest way of achieving this result. A majority accept the Commission proposals but want products with more than 0.5% of GMOs or less if practicable, to be labelled as such. Traceability rules should be established so that this is done even when the presence of GMO DNA cannot be identified. But we risk overwhelming the consumer if we label every foodstuff made from products derived from animals fed on GMOs.

I am opposed to steps being taken which will eventually lead only to GMO-free or to non-GMO products being labelled if such a thing is possible, because this will result in normal foods being classified as special and transfer the burden of proof and costs away from GMO producers. We may have to do this eventually but not yet. GM crops have the potential to bring major benefits, but they also pose threats to the environment. Rules for trade are needed, but I will not be sorry if consumer preference slows the pace of GMO development and allows us more time to assess the full consequences of their use.