Traceability and labeling of GMO-based products: draft parliamentary opinion

January 21, 2002

Brussels, 18 January 2002

Draft opinion of the Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy for the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy on the proposal for a Council regulation concerning traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms and traceability of food and feed products produced from genetically modified organisms and amending Directive 2001/18/EC ( COM(2001) 182 - C5-0380/01 - 2001/0180(COD)). 6 December 2001. Draftsman: Esko Olavi Seppänen. Full text


When DNA sequences taken from other species are transferred to natural organisms ('old species'), new organisms emerge which have not undergone by natural selection and which have not developed a balance with other species in their habitat. For this reason there is every need to exercise caution, even excessive caution, regarding the modification of genes and the approval of the use of GMOs.

The aim of the Commission proposal for a regulation is to ensure the traceability and labelling of GMOs and to extend traceability, with the appropriate labelling, to the whole production, processing and distribution chain to cover foodstuffs and animal feeds produced from GMOs or containing GMOs. The EU, in which the marketing of GMOs is subject to licensing, is becoming a pioneer in the labelling and traceability of GMOs to enable consumers to make a choice.

Directive 2001/18/EC lays down provisions governing the deliberate release of GMOs into the environment. During the conciliation process between the European Parliament and the Council, no compromise could be found on the traceability of GMOs. In July 2001, the Commission published this proposal. It foresees that the Commission establishes a system for development and assignment of so-called unique codes to GMOs. The code is a simple numeric or alphanumeric code to identify a GMO which provides means to retrieve specific information about that GMO.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety requires the identity of GMOs to be specified. The industrialised countries have been negotiating in the OECD on unique codes. To minimise the commercial effects the Commission is called upon to work towards the compatibility of systems.

Under the proposal for a regulation:
1. Operators shall have in place systems and procedures to identify to whom and from whom products are made available;
2. Operators shall transmit specified information concerning the identity of a product in terms of the individual GMOs it contains or whether it is produced from GMOs; and
3. Operators shall retain specified information for a period of five years and make it available to competent authorities on demand.

The traceability throughout the EU of food and animal feed has not hitherto concerned the traceability of GMOs. Now it is proposed that the provisions should be extended to cover not only GMOs but also products produced from GMOs. These include products derived from GMOs which do not contain and are not composed of GMOs. These products, which do not contain any viable GMOs, are covered by special traceability and labelling requirements.

It must be possible to establish the unique identity of GMOs at the initial stage of the production and distribution chain and when the data is to accompany the product to subsequent stages. The GMO data must accompany the product even in the case of loose goods. Genetically modified seeds, plants and derivatives must be kept separate from 'clean' products. The monitoring of unintentional contamination could be a problem.

Only GMOs approved by the EU's own authorisation procedure may be placed on the market in the EU. The importer must receive the GMO identification data from the exporter or must determine its identity himself by samples and tests.

No deadline has been set for bringing this system into force, nor have any uniform penalties been proposed for breach of the provisions.

Producers are critical of the new regulation. They complain about problems in putting the provisions into effect in practice, extra costs, the ease of abuses and the commercial consequences. Consumers' associations have been cautiously welcoming. They do not want to see any GMO-based products on the market in the EU that is not clearly labelled and can see that the regulation opens the way to their arrival on the EU market.


The Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy calls on the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following amendments in its report.

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