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Commission Amending Honey Law to Hide GM Pollen

Immediate release (11 Feb 2013)

Calls to: Pete Riley 07903 341 065; Phil Chandler 07891 554 012

Tomorrow EU Member States will discuss the Commission’s proposal to amend the Honey Directive in what is widely believed to be an attempt to circumvent the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and hide the presence of GM pollen from consumers.

The discussion, which will take place at the Council of Europe’s Working Party on Foodstuffs, is the latest development in the long story of GM pollen in honey. In September 2011 the ECJ ruled that pollen is an ingredient of honey and that honey containing GM pollen must follow GM regulations, meaning it cannot be sold without full food authorisation and GM labels. [1]

A year later the Commission proposed an amendment to the Honey Directive reclassifying pollen as a “constituent” of honey, not an ingredient, which has a considerable impact on labelling. [2] Under GM rules each GM ingredient in a product must be listed on the label. Under the Commission’s proposed changes to the Honey Directive GM pollen would still have to be authorised as food before it could be sold, but GM pollen would have to make up more than 0.9% of the total weight of the honey itself before it would have to be labelled – a circumstance that is unlikely ever to arise as total pollen weight in honey is normally around 0.1%.

Beekeepers say that by insisting that pollen is a constituent of honey rather than an ingredient the Commission is repeating a “substantive factual error” it first used (without success) in the ECJ case. In a strongly worded statement issued in January 2013 a dozen European beekeeper and farming groups demanded the ECJ ruling be implemented in full saying, “There is a clear attempt by the Commission to circumvent the Court ruling.” [3]

Honeybees forage widely (up to several miles) for pollen, which they need as protein source. Colonies concentrate their efforts on pollen rich plants, such as oilseed rape, which benefits farmers by enhancing pollination rates in their crops – as much as 20% in oilseed rape. These pollination services are vital for European agriculture and are worth some €22 billion per year. [4]

Phil Chandler, Director of Friends of Bees and author of the Barefoot Beekeeper, said:

Many crops rely on beehives being placed nearby to help with pollination and to boost yields. To some extent beekeepers can decide what pollen is present in their honey by where hives are located, and because of the dangers of insecticides present in many GM crops, they will choose to avoid putting them in reach of GM pollen, but this may not always be possible.

The Commission is proposing to legitimise GM contamination of honey and hide it from the public.

If the Commission’s proposal is successful GM pollen in honey may become routine and legal, effectively preventing this contamination from being used as grounds to strengthen “coexistence” rules that protect non-GM food and crops from GM contamination.

GM Freeze Campaign Director Pete Riley commented:

The EC is bending over backwards to help the biotech companies and is ignoring the long-term importance of honeybees for food security and the rural economy.

Consumer pressure forced retailers to remove GM ingredients from their products years ago and EU labelling laws have kept them out. If the Commission’s proposal is successful people will not be able to make an informed choice when they buy honey or food containing honey.

Europe’s politicians must stand up to the Commission and biotech industry, give this proposal the boot and adhere to the ruling of the European Court of Justice. This would inevitably mean enacting solid laws on how and where GM crops can be used to enable all foods to be produced without GM contamination.

Phil Chandler added:

Honey consumers expect a pure and natural product and will not want GM pollen as an added extra. Beekeepers and honeybees are facing huge challenges at present with pesticide contamination, parasites and diseases threatening their very existence. GM contamination could be the last straw for both bees and beekeepers. If this happens European farmers will be one of the main losers. Apples and most other top fruit, as well as many seed crops, need a strong and healthy bee population to pollinate them and will be compromised if there are not enough bees around.

Beekeepers and honey lovers need to unite and tell the EC that bees and honey need protection from GM contamination, not legislation that attempts to hide it.




[1] GM Freeze, 7 September 2011. “EU Court of Justice: Contaminated honey needs GM authorisation” The case was brought by Bavarian beekeeper Karl Heinze Bablok after his honey was contaminated by an open-air field trial of GM Mon810 maize on land owned by the Bavarian state.

[2] See Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Directive 2001/110/EC relating to honey /* COM/2012/0530 final – 2012/0260 (COD) */

[3] See Proposed Amendment to the Honey Directive: Position Paper from Beekeepers (pdf): “The Commission asked Member States to wait before acting, and today offers a legislative amendment aiming to apply only partially this judicial decision, so that honey containing pollen from GMOs is not labelled in order to avoid coexistence measures that would protect beekeeping.”

[4] Gallai, N, Salles, JM, Settele, J & Vaissiere, BE. (2009) “Economic valuation of the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted with pollinator decline”. Ecological Economics, 68, 810-821. Referred to in

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