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Seek out the details on EU labeling, traceability legislation

(Thursday, Dec. 12, 2002 -- CropChoice commentary) -- Given that billions of dollars of lost exports could be at stake, U.S. farmers need to be aware of the details in the agreement that European Union agriculture ministers reached on Nov. 28 about the labeling and traceability of food and feed containing genetically modified organisms. The European Parliament likely will approve the proposals in time for their implementation before the end of 2003.

The 15 ministers agreed to allow the few genetically modified crop varieties, such as soybeans, that had received approval before the start of the EU biotech food moratorium in 1999 to compose 0.9 percent or less of a food or feed product without having to be labeled. A level higher than 0.9 percent, however, triggers a label.

What about the biotech varieties science advisers had reviewed positively, but that, nonetheless, didn't gain authorization before the start of the suspension on bio-engineered foods? The proposal allows for the so-called "adventitious" presence of such organisms up to a level of 0.5 percent; the threshold drops to zero after three years.

The tolerance is zero for those varieties that received no reviews, much less authorization, when the moratorium began. So, if Monsanto's new YieldGard Rootworm corn variety, for example, were to find its way into food or feed -- namely corn gluten feed-- it would be turned back.

Although Europe is a huge market for U.S. corn gluten feed, exports dropped from 5.5 million metric tons in the 1995-1996 marketing year to about 4.4 million metric tons in 2000-2001, at least in part because of the European rejection of transgenic crops, says Dan McGuire of the American Corn Growers Association. (See Corn Growers warn that intransigent U.S. attitude toward Europeans on GMO import policy could backfire with corn gluten feed; http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?recid=1180)

Those remaining 4.4 million tons could be at risk not just because of tolerance levels on certain biotech varieties and prohibitions on others, but also the question of traceability. Along with the question of labeling, all food and feed will have to arrive in Europe with a paper trail detailing exactly how they were produced.

The wheat that Monsanto has genetically engineered to resist the Roundup herbicide falls into that last zero-tolerance category under the new proposal.

"So when Monsanto talks to farmers in the United States, Canada, Australia, the Czech Republic or other countries about establishing tolerances and thresholds for GMO contamination of conventional wheat, the reality is that all of their talk means absolutely nothing," a trade analyst says. "No EU approval equals zero tolerance for GE wheat contamination."

Everyone, including Monsanto, agrees that eliminating the possibility of contamination would be impossible in the event of Roundup Ready wheat commercialization and planting. This would mean the immediate loss of the European market, which accounts for some 8 million tons of U.S. and Canadian wheat per year, unless Monsanto could somehow persuade EU authorities to grant approval. The chances of that happening are slim, considering these strict labeling and traceability proposals and the fact that the Europeans largely have rejected transgenic foods.

Farmers should visit the Know Before You Grow section of the National Corn Growers Association website at http://www.ncga.com/biotechnology/know_where/know_grow_approved.htm

The following is a list of genetically modified crop varieties that received a positive risk assessment under Directive 90/220, but that never received authorization. That means their presence in a food or feed product would be tolerated up to a level of 0.5 percent.

  • Male sterile Chicory
    Company: Bejo Zanden BV
    Uses: food and feed
  • Male sterile swede rape tolerant to glufosinate ammonium (MS8, RF3)
    Company: Plant Genetic Systems
    Uses: as any other swede rape
  • Fodder beet tolerant to glyphosate
    Company: DLF Trifolium, Monsanto and Danisco Seed
    Uses: production of seeds and roots, animal feed
  • Cotton expressing the Bt cryIA(c) gene (line 531)
    Company: Monsanto
    Uses: as any other cotton
  • Cotton tolerant to herbicide (line 1445)
    Company: Monsanto
    Uses: as any other cotton
  • Potato with altered starch composition
    Company: AMYLOGENE
    Uses: as any other starch potato
  • Swede rape tolerant to glufosinate ammonium (Liberator)
    Company: AgrEvo GmbH
    Uses: as any other swede rape
  • Maize tolerant to glufosinate ammonium and expressing the Bt cryIA(b) gene (Bt-11)
    Company: Novartis
    Uses: cultivation
  • Maize tolerant to glufosinate ammonium and expressing the Bt cryIA(b) gene (T25+MON810)
    Company: Pioneer
    Uses: as any other maize
  • Maize tolerant to glyphosate (GA21)
    Company: Monsanto
    Uses: as any other maize

........ List of "pending" GM foods and food ingredients (under Reg.258/97 Novel Food)

  • Roundup Ready Maize line GA21
    Company: Monsanto
  • Bt11 sweet maize
    Company: Novartis Seeds AG