2 July 2002

Blair orders MEPs to block strict labelling of GM foods

By Marie Woolf Chief Political Correspondent

Moves to lay down Europe-wide rules on genetically modified (GM) food are expected to
provoke a bitter political dispute this week when the Government urges British MEPs to block a strict new labelling regime.

The European Parliament is deeply divided over rules for GM food that would force all products containing more than 0.5 per cent of GM organisms (GMOs) to be labelled.

The Government has sent British MEPs a briefing note urging them to vote against it, arguing that the issue is low on the list of consumer priorities.

The document also suggests that meat from animals fed on GM food should not be labelled and nor should the use of processing aids derived from GMOs. And it says British shoppers are unconcerned about genetic modification and that "GM is very far down the list of consumer considerations with regard to food.

"It is a tiny feature on mental maps of food issues, and does not figure at all for some," the
UK briefing says.

Britain's stance has infuriated environmental groups who say consumer surveys consistently show overwhelming opposition to GM foods. They said ministers were "twisting the arms" of MEPs and arguing for a "lax regime" because of pressure from America.

Several EU member states have said they will block new licences for GMOs until a proper regime for traceability and labelling is established. Tomorrow's vote in the European Parliament in Strasbourg is intended to help to break Europe's deadlock on GMOs by putting in place new rules.

The European Commission had suggested that products should be able to contain up to 1 per cent of GM material without being labelled, but the environment committee suggested a threshold of 0.5 per cent. Britain has led calls to reinstate the 1 per cent figure.

Adrian Bebb, biotechnology campaigner for Friends of the Earth, accused Britain of being out of touch with the rest of Europe and said that the Government was "in the pocket of the
biotechnology industry". He said: "Britain is acting as America's poodle. The Government is
more interested in supporting the biotechnology industry and American intensive farming interests than British consumers and the UK food industry."

The British document argues against labelling all food from GM crops and said only those that "actually contain GM material [DNA or protein] which can be verified by testing" should be labelled.

Labour's environment spokesman in the European Parliament, David Bowe, said he wanted a labelling system that marked out food with absolutely no GM content. "People say that is
impractical but, frankly, I dispute that," he said.

MEPs share joint responsibility with EU governments for passing the laws and months might
be needed to draw up a final policy.