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Zero means zero: Keep untested GM out

The EC is trying to let unapproved GMOs into food without putting them through EU safety testing first.

06 Sep 2012

Tell supermarkets zero means zero

EC plans to let untested GMOs in food are back on. See updated action on this page to press supermarkets to protect you by rejecting such plans now.

What you can do

Please write urgently to as many supermarkets as you can. Ask them to contact the our new Secretary of State at Defra Owen Paterson urgently and press for the clear rejection by the UK Government of any proposal to permit unauthorised GMOs in food. Addresses for UK supermarkets are here.

UK supermarkets claim own-brand products do not contain GM. GM Freeze has written to all UK supermarkets asking them to press the UK Government to reject any such move so non-GM will mean non-GM, but they have been slow to react and need to hear from shoppers that untested GMOs have NO place in our food.

Please also consider writing to your MEPs asking them to write to Defra objecting to this move. We suggest you use writetothem.com to help contact your MP and MEPs.

Background to this action

The EU used to have a zero tolerance policy on any food or feed contamination with unapproved GMOs. Last year a threshold for unapproved GMOs in animal feed was introduced, meaning untested GM is, for all we know, now in the food chain.

During the feed debate several EU Member States, including the UK, insisted any threshold should apply to human food as well as animal feed, arguing that the overlap in the two food systems makes this artificial separation impractical.

Today food imports can be rejected if they contain a GM trait that has not been fully assessed and approved for safety under the EU’s GM regulatory system. Very few shipments have ever been rejected this way, and all of them were from the US (see below for more).

Now the zero tolerance policy for food is under threat. EU Commissioner Dalli has indicated he will table proposals to introduce a threshold for unauthorised, untested, unlabelled GMOs in food. We expect these proposals to be tabled at any time, so urgent action is needed.

In an official answer to a Parliamentary question from MP Zak Goldsmith in July, Minister of State for Health Anne Milton confirmed UK Govenment support for the 2011 relaxation of zero tolerance for unauthorised GMOs in feed and indicated, "[UK Government] policy commitment taht regulation of GM organisms should be pragmatic and proportionate, without compromising safety." This is not enough and leaves the way open for the UK to support untested GMOs in food, too.

This is another step in dismantling the EU GM regulatory system. Please act today.

EU regulations are quite rightly based on the precautionary principle.

The Germans have already indicated they will reject any proposal to permite unauthorised GMOs in food in order to protect public health and safeguard transparency in food labelling.

GM Freeze has written to all UK supermarkets asking them to press the UK Government to reject any such move so non-GM will mean non-GM.

If/when a proposal does come forward we expect it would permit contamination up to a certain threshold, and there is concern this could easily be raised in the future if vested interests decide to lobby for it. If the zero tolerance policy is dropped it could lead to further weakening of the EU regulatory system, such as allowing GM presence in seeds (GM seeds guarantee a GM crop).

Furthermore as with most GMOs authorised for import as food or feed, the GMOs falling under this proposal may not be authorised for cultivation, so the components that are viable seeds (eg, soya or maize) would threaten contamination of UK and EU crops (eg, if spilled or spread by animals), but with the added complication of not being permitted in the food chain either.

Lobbying hard

The EC is under pressure from the US Government, biotech industry and animal feed manufacturers keen to keep their costs down by eroding segregation requirements, even though this has not prevented a free flow of approved GM animal feed and foods entering the EU.

These lobbyists have long argued:

  •  that the “problem” of so-called “asynchronous approval” (the situation that arises when one country approves a GM variety before others) is interfering with international trade unnecessarily. However this assumes that all GMOs that are approved in other countries will eventually be approved in the EU, which is far from clear, and this proposal would permit those GMOs to enter the food chain when they have not undergone proper safety testing. It is unclear why the EU should accept what other countries approve rather than operate our own authorisation system properly.
  • that the EU’s zero tolerance policy is causing problems for importers by causing  shipments to be turned back at ports increases costs and prices. However as the numbers of shipments rejected for this reason are so low, it is unclear that this is much of a problem at all, or that it should not be resolved either by insisting that US exporters properly segregate GM and non-GM shipments or by purchasing from the ample supplies available from countries that do segregate properly.

This “problem” is a result of the US GM industry being unwilling to properly segregate GM crops to meet the requirements of its customers
, and, to some degree, being unable to keep experimental GMOs out of the food chain (as with the 2006 contamination of US rice supplies, see GM in The Dock: US Courts step in where regulators fail - Bayer brought to book for contaminating rice. For more background see Thin Ice 16.

How the threshold works in animal feed

The 2011 end of the zero tolerance policy in animal feed introduced the possibility of routine low-level contamination of EU feed imports with unauthorised GMOs. This so-called “technical solution” applie in two specific circumstances:

  • where a GMO has not yet been approved for use in the EU, but a valid application for its authorisation has been submitted to EFSA and the EU Reference Laboratory has the information needed to trace it (“a quantitative method for its analysis has been validated by the EU Reference Laboratory”), or,
  • (after 25 April 2012) where the approval for the GMO in question has expired but the EU Reference Laboratory has the information needed to trace it.


Three critical issues in the feed debate:

  1. This issue infrequently affects a very small number of import shipments – only 0.2% of all EU soya imports have been rejected because they contained unapproved GMOs, and none since June 2009.

  2. Furthermore, we do not know of any certified non-GM supplies being affected, and there is more than enough non-GM soya available, so there is no need to risk facing this “problem” at all. These shipments that were rejection ALL come from the US – the US is a minor player in EU animal feed (eg, supplying only 2.3% of the EU’s soya meal), so the majority of our animal feed is completely unaffected by this issue.

  3. The US itself operates a zero tolerance policy on unauthorised GMOs – any shipment to the US containing GMOs that have not been approved in the US are sent back, so it is unclear why the EU should accept unapproved US GMOs. Other countries also operate zero tolerance of unauthorised GMOs, as seen recently in China (refusing a US shipment of animal feed containing unapproved GMOs).


Action updates from the animal feed discussion below (marked "FEED 2011") will help you see how things developed last year. We will update this action whenever we receive new information on a proposal for food.

All previous updates

15 Nov 2010

Untested GM in food AND feed?

FEED 2011: SCOFAH discussed this issue. At the meeting the UK, Netherlands and Portugal were reported to argue “very aggressively” in favour of extending these proposals for low-level contamination with unapproved GMOs to food as well as feed, saying since food and feed chains overlap it is impractical to attempt to separate them.

15 Dec 2010

UK still pushing to include food in proposal

FEED 2011: GM Freeze understands that at the SCOFAH meeting yesterday the Commission asked Member States to consider if they want the proposed permitted low-level contamination of supplies with unapproved GMOs to apply to feed only or to food AND feed, as was suggested by countries including the UK.

The Commission is expected to produce a new draft, and the next meeting is scheduled for 14 January, but given that proposals for votes must be available two weeks before any vote, it is unlikely there will be sufficient time to table papers for a vote then.

It is very important to write to your MEPs if you have not done so already and object to ANY moves to permit routine, low-levels presence of unapproved GMOs in food OR feed. We need to send a clear message that zero means zero, and European consumers do not want unapproved, untested products in their food.

Please write to your MEPs making the following points:

- There is no good reason to drop the current EU policy of zero tolerance for unapproved GMOs. In fact there are several reasons to reject the proposal:
1) This is a policy upheld by the US, and it ensures that the EU’s own safety standards are applied to all products in the food chain.
2) This issue only affects a tiny proportion of EU feed imports, and only affects shipments from the US, a minor supplier of EU animal feed.
3) The EU has ample choice of animal feed and food supplies to avoid this “problem” altogether if the US is unable to provide what our law requires.
4) The EFSA website states, ”Upon receipt of a new application EFSA has six weeks to check for completeness of the application dossier and, if complete, the application is declared valid,” at which point EFSA begins to produce its overall opinion on the application, including the GMO Panel’s risk assessment. Additional information is often requested during this process. This means that, in effect, EFSA may not even be in possession of all the information needed to conduct a risk assessment at the time the GMO is permitted in the food chain under this proposal.
5) The EU should insist that sources of food and feed are compliant with our law, rather than finding “technical solutions” to EU law to suit those selling GM crops the EU has not assessed as safe and put through normal democratic processes. It is not for the US to dictate EU GM policy.

- Given that both a valid application or expired authorisation must be present as well as “a quantitative method for its analysis has been validated by the EU Reference Laboratory”, it is unclear how many shipments rejected under the current zero tolerance policy would have qualified for this proposed relaxation of standards. It would be most helpful if the Commission could provide information about how many of the 0.2% of rejected soya shipments would have been accepted under this proposal so as to demonstrate how it will actually alleviate the “problem” it aims to fix.

- The proposal undermines EU approval processes in an unacceptably risky way at a time when EU GM controls and regulations should be strengthened and enforced, not relaxed.

31 Jan 2011

Ask MPs to press Defra on GM safety

FEED 2011: It is vital the EU Member States reject the EC’s proposal to allow contamination of imports with unauthorised GMOs. A SCOFAH meeting will be held on 8-9 February 2011 at which delegates from Member States will discuss and possibly vote on a proposal to amend Regulation 882/2004 to allow animal feed to be marketed in the EU even if it is contaminated with unauthorised GMOs.

At this time we were urging people to write to MPs as soon as possible asking her/him to write to Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Caroline Spelman demanding that the UK opposes the Commission proposals because they:

- are unnecessary.
- weaken the EU’s regulation of GMO safety and set a precedent for further weakening in the future.
- ignore EU public opinion (61% of European think GM crops should not be encouraged).
- open up the possibility that a high-risk GM trait (such as a gene to produce pharmaceuticals a crop plant such as maize) could enter the food chain with serious public health and expensive consequence.
- undermine public trust in the EU regulatory system and food chain.

11 Feb 2011

Vote postponed - Please keep writing

FEED 2011: Many thanks to everyone who wrote to add pressure on this issue. The vote did not take place, and is postponed to an unspecified date, perhaps 22 February.

This is good news. Reports suggest that opposition from France played a key role in the postponement, but we are also aware that opposition from a number of countries (Poland, Hungary, Cyprus, Malta, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg – some of which have GMO bans in place) meant there was no chance of the Commission’s proposals achieve the required qualified majority to carry, so no vote was called. This enables the Commission to go away and “redraft” (although how they will meet the needs of objectors is unclear, and the sticky matter of the new legal opinion is also unresolved).

Worryingly, Italy, Denmark, the UK and Ireland now support the measures.

08 Mar 2011

Vote Lost - But it's not over yet

FEED 2011: The vote in the EU Parliament was in favour of permitting low-level contamination of the feed with unapproved GMOs. GM Freeze and others are looking at what to do next.

If you wish to write to your MEP in protest, please refer him/her to the legal opinion sought by from Achim Willand Friends of the Earth found:

"The way that the European Commission is attempting to change Europe’s current laws governing GMOs would not be legal. The Commission does not have the right to introduce a GM contamination threshold by redefining testing and analysis methods in the feed control law (Regulation882/2004). The intention of the proposal is to introduce a de-factothreshold for non-authorised GM contamination. Non-authorised GM may not sidestep the EU-authorisation process."

24 Jun 2011

Untested GM to be allowed in animal feed

FEED 2011: Reuters are reporting today that Europe has adopted measures to permit untested GM into animal feed up to a level of 0.1%.

29 Jun 2012

Food proposal expected soon - please act today

FOOD: Commissioner Dalli has indicated he intends to table a new proposal to permit unauthorised, untested, unlabelled GMOs in food (it is already permitted in animal feed). Please read this updated action and write to your MP today asking her/him to write urgently to Secretary of State Caroline Spelman urging her to reject any European Commission proposal to permit unauthorised, untested, unlabelled GMOs in our food.

11 Jul 2012

Good news - for now...

FOOD: We've just received news that Commissioner Dalli has postponed plans to table a proposal to permit a new threshold for unauthorised, untested GMOs in food. We understand that Germany, France and Austria have all indicated they would reject such a proposal, and the Commission is now attempting to negotiate with Member States with a view to tabling a proposal in the Autumn.

In a response to a Parliamentary Question asked by Zak Goldsmitih, Defra confirmed that such a proposal is in the works and that the UK supported moves to remove the zero tolerance policy in feed last year (see www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2012-07-02a.113974.h&s=section%3Awrans+speaker%3A24911#g113974.q0).

Many thanks to everyone who sent letters, and we will update everyone should further action on this issue be required.

06 Sep 2012

Tell supermarkets zero means zero

EC plans to let untested GMOs in food are back on. See updated action on this page to press supermarkets to protect you by rejecting such plans now.