A majority of European consumers want to see mandatory labeling of food products containing genetically modified crops, according to a recent Ipsos report, but industry players insist this is impossible to implement.
the report, commissioned by the Verts / ALE group in the European Parliament and conducted by the polling organization Ipsos, surveyed thousands of consumers in the 27 member states between February and March this year to try to gauge their understanding and attitude towards – with regard to genetically modified (GM) products.
This included both “conventional” genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which involve gene transfer between different species, as well as genetically modified (GE) crops, created using new genetic engineering techniques such as CRISPR.
He found that, among those who have heard of the technology, 86% of people want foods containing GMOs to be labeled accordingly, while 68% of respondents who have heard of new genomic techniques would also like them. these are clearly labeled.
While 78% of those surveyed had heard of GM crops, only 40% on average across all EU member states said they had prior knowledge of GM crops.
In its current form, EU legislation stipulates that genetically modified foods must be clearly labeled, indicating that in the case of prepackaged genetically modified food / feed, the list of ingredients must state ‘genetically modified’ or “produced from genetically modified products [name of the organism]’, While unpackaged products require a nearby notice.
However, products from animals fed with GMO cultures are exempt from GMO labeling.
The report comes amid a heated debate over the future of technology after a 2018 European Court of Justice ruling concluded that GM crops fell, in principle, under the EU’s GMO.
However, the outcome of that decision has since been strongly contested, with industry players pushing for the decision to be revised to exclude transgenic crops from the scope of EU regulations governing GMOs.
This would include labeling rules, which the Greens / EFA warn would deprive consumers of their right to know how their food is produced and leave them “no opportunity to avoid genetically modified foods”.
Contacted by EURACTIV, a Commission official said the next step for the EU executive will be the publication of a study on new genomic techniques, which aims to clarify the situation in light of the 2018 court ruling.
“The Commission is currently finalizing the study which had been requested by the Council,” said the official, stressing that issues such as consumer perception will be addressed there.
The study is expected to be published at the end of April.
Martin Häusling, agricultural policy spokesperson for the Verts / ALE Group, said the Commission “must respect the will of consumers and ensure that existing rules are enforced and that animal products that have been fed with GMOs, including new methods of genetic engineering ”.
“We demand that the same authorization and labeling rules apply to all types of genetically modified organisms,” he said, stressing that consumer protection means “freedom of choice and transparency. as to whether our foods have been produced by genetic engineering, whether they are old or new methods of genetic engineering. “
Contacted by EURACTIV, EU consumer group BEUC declined to comment directly on the matter.
However, in its position paper on the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm-to-Plate Strategy, which notes the potential role that “innovative techniques, including biotechnology” can play in increasing the sustainability of food. food production, the organization stresses that “the traceability and labeling of products made from these [gene editing] technology must guarantee consumers’ right to know and freedom of choice. “
They add that a lack of labeling of these products would risk “eroding consumer confidence in organic food”, stressing that this would run counter to the strategy’s objective of stimulating the production and consumption of organic food. ‘organic food in the EU.
There is a will, but is there a way?
Asked about the feasibility of labeling genetically modified foods in this way, the European seed sector organization Euroseeds told EURACTIV that it was “not aware of any practical strategies that could be used to clearly identify the products of ‘gene editing of the conventional type, when these products are part of the product streams. . “
Garlich Von Essen, general secretary of Euroseeds, pointed out that non-unique changes in the genome could also occur naturally or through conventional breeding methods.
“As we are of the opinion that these products do not constitute transgenic products and are therefore fundamentally different and should not be regulated as products falling under the GMO Directive, we do not see any value or justification for placing the varieties conventional-type genome editing plants under the labeling obligations of the current GMO directive, ”he said, warning that this could lead to a“ discriminatory situation ”.
Likewise, center-right MEP Herbert Dorfmann, who is the agricultural coordinator of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), recently told EURACTIV in an interview that he is in frequent contact with scientific experts on the matter. who argue that this is not the case. possibility of differentiating GMOs from GM crops.
“In my opinion, labeling is simply not possible and [without regulating gene editing] we will have plants, seeds that will come from outside of Europe, where we don’t know what genetic improvement technology has been applied, ”he said.[Edited by Benjamin Fox]