Environmental campaigners Greenpeace state this week that, one hundred days after tough new rules on GMO labelling for food became applicable, only a handful of GMO-labelled products are on sale in European supermarkets.
Greenpeace's 'gene detectives', who have been looking at food labels in large supermarket chains since 18 April when the rules were enforced, found only four products containing genetically modified ingredients in Germany, two in the UK and the Czech Republic, and none in Italy or Austria. The most GMO-labelled products - 14 - were found in France.
"The market is practically free of products containing GMOs," said Eric Gall of Greenpeace European Unit.
Praised by consumer groups but criticised by the food industry, the toughest rules on GM labelling in the world mean that all foods which contain or consist of GMOs, or which are produced from GMOs, will have to be labelled, regardless of the presence of GM material in the final product. The system leans heavily on traceability, and as such has created an extensive paper trail.
"Third, fourth, fifth generation food ingredients derived from genetically modified foodstuffs will have to be labelled. A glucose syrup, for example, derived from starch, that in turn hails from a GM maize, will have to be labelled as such," a spokesperson for the European food manufacturers body the CIAA told FoodNavigator.com recently, adding that the industry had argued from the outset that the legislation had gone too far.
The new rules from Brussels - (EC) 1830/2003 on the Traceability and Labelling of GMOs and (EC) 1829/2003 on Genetically Modified (GM) Food and Feed - find their source in consumer suspicions of GM foods. The rules were set up to bring choice to the consumer - if they see 'GM ingredient' on the label they can decide to buy, or not.
"Their rejection of GMOs in food has made major food producers and retailers ensure that their shelves are free of modified produce," added Gall yesterday.
While the food industry now has to extensively label GM food products in Europe, in fact food manufacturers have been extremely reticent about using GM ingredients, knowing that ultimately it did not make sound business sense in a climate where the European consumer remains extremely suspicious of genetically modified foodstuffs.
"There are not many GM seeds being sold, apart from Spain where there about 30,000-40,000 hectares of GM maize," Simon Barber of biotech organisation Europabio mentioned to FoodNavigator.com.
At the start of the paper chain, the GM seed industry must also be in line with the new rules. "Seed companies are ready. This is an industry based on labelling," added Barber.
According to the Greenpeace survey, three products with genetically modified ingredients were found in Belgium, 12 in the Netherlands, none in Sweden or Greece, and one in Denmark, which was later withdrawn from sale. Although none were found in Spain, Greenpeace has criticised the Spanish authorities for "failing to implement the legislation and carry out proper checks on companies".