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EU Court of Justice: Contaminated honey needs GM authorisation

Immediate release (7 Sep 2011)

Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065

In a landmark judgement yesterday the European Union Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that honey contaminated with GM pollen must go through full GM food authorisation before it can be marketed in the EU. [1]

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. Mr Bablok’s bees collected the GM maize pollen for food (maize is only wind pollinated; insects play no role in maize fertilisation).

The judgement confirms an interim opinion issued in February by the ECJ’s Advocate General Bot that honey containing GM pollen should be required to gain authorisation as a GM food, just as other products containing GM do. GM crops are not currently grown commercially in the UK, but any decisions made to grow them in future will now have to take into account the likely negative impacts on the honey market.

The judgment means that GM crop marketing licenses must be acquired to cover sale of honey as food under Directive 2001/18 and Regulation 1829/2003. This applies even if the pollen is non-viable and no longer able to fertilise flowers. The European Commission had previously refused to accept that honey contaminated with GM pollen should carry GM labels, saying the pollen was unintentionally present, was not an ingredient of the final product and was only present in small amounts.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

“This is a landmark ruling with very significant implications for farmers, beekeepers, consumers, regulators, retailers and biotech companies.

“The presence of GM pollen in a product with a reputation for quality and purity could be very damaging to sales. Measures to prevent contamination must be the responsibility of the GM crop grower, not beekeepers.

Beekeepers play a key role for agriculture, and providing pollinating services on farms is essential for many arable, vegetable and fruit crops. It is estimated that EU-wide pollinating services are worth 22 billion Euros per annum, and the honey from those bees is sold as food. [3]

Oilseed rape yields are increased if honey bees feed on the crops, but if there is a GM crop nearby, contamination of the honey now means the beekeeper having to get GM authorisation before sale and label the honey as GM, if anyone wants to buy it.

EU governments and regulators must face up to the realisation that contamination of honey cannot be prevented by any coexistence measures possible in Europe’s relatively small, tightly-packed fields.

It is clear that honey bees are far more important to European agriculture than growing GM. The logical decision is to refuse authorisation to grow GM crops that put honey at risk and to suspend the existing consent for Mon810 maize with immediate effect.



1. See Court of Justice of the European Union, Press Release 79/11, 6 September 2011, Judgment in Case C-442/09 Karl Heinz Bablok and Others v Freistaat Bayern, “Honey and food supplements containing pollen derived from a GMO are foodstuffs produced from GMOs which cannot be marketed without prior authorization”

2. See Court of Justice of the European Union, Press Release 5/11, 9 February 2011, Advocate General’s Opinion in Case C-442/09 Karl Heinz Bablok and Others v Freistaat Bayern, “In Advocate General Bot’s opinion, honey containing pollen from MON 810 maize requires authorisation to be placed on the market as a food produced from a GMO”

3. 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