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E.U. approves biotech food labeling; move draws U.S. anger

(Thursday, July 24, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Josh Sosland, Bakingbusiness.com, 07/23/03: BRUSSELS -- E.U. agriculture ministers this week formally approved labeling rules for foods containing bioengineered ingredients, paving the way for the sale of such foods in Europe beginning this fall.

Food industry representatives in the United States reacted angrily to the new rules. John R. Cady, president and chief executive officer of the National Food Processors Association, said the labeling requirements in effect create a new barrier to free international trade in food products.

"The E.U. has elected to turn away from food science and food safety to establish yet another trade barrier that will keep many U.S. food products out of the European market," Mr. Cady said.

Under the new rules, all food products in which bioengineered ingredients represent more than 0.9% of the finished item will have to clearly carry the words, "This product is produced from Genetically Modified Organisms."

A new register will be established requiring businesses dealing in biotechnology-derived products to trade each product from its point of origin to the supermarket shelf.

This requirement drew particularly trenchant comments from Mr. Cady.

"The traceability requirements are so complex and detailed that they equate to the process for handling nuclear waste," he said. "What perception will such a process, applied to food, bring about in the minds of European consumers?"

A newly established European Food Safety Authority will assess the safety of all new biotech products before they can be sold.

In addition, each of the 15 E.U. nations may set their own rules to keep bioengineered seeds from blowing onto fields producing conventional or organic foodstuffs.

The United States opposes the labeling requirements because of food safety issues, Mr. Cady said.

"Because there is no safety or nutrition issue associated with the products of agricultural biotechnology on the market, there is no scientific basis for requiring the labeling of biotech foods," Mr. Cady said. "Moreover, such labels on food products will be seen as 'warning labels' by European consumers. In essence, the requirements ensure that these products are unlikely to enter the European market, thereby actually denying consumer access to the products of agricultural biotechnology."

Food manufacturers also oppose the E.U. move because it appears to validate the labeling of bioengineered food products.

Indeed, E.U. environment commissioner Margot Wallstrom said the new rules "will reinforce international credibility" of the E.U. biotechnology policy.

Mr. Cady said that the credibility of the rules probably will get challenged.

"This new labeling scheme and traceability process sets the stage for another World Trade Organization legal case that will take years to resolve," he said. "This is a bad decision by the E.U. (The) N.F.P.A. urges the E.U. to reconsider these new requirements, so that a new and unnecessary barrier to trade is not established. And we will work with the U.S. Trade Representative to make sure that the World Trade Organization understands the problem these new requirements will pose, and request the W.T.O. to take appropriate action to resolve this issue."