Soya bean production in the EU is limited due to agronomic and climatic reasons and operators must therefore rely very heavily on imports to cover industry needs.
Imports are critically important therefore for the vegetable protein sector and remain under constant threat due to potentially very low level presence of asynchronous and obsolete GMO events. The risk of finding trace amounts of these GMOs in imported products has been of increasing concern in recent years due to a variety of factors including the increasing area and number of GMOs cultivated around the world and the difference in the speed of GM authorizations between the EU and the originating countries.
Sourcing strategies are therefore implemented that minimize, to the extent technically achievable, the risk of GMO presence (from all traits, including asynchronous and obsolete GMOs). Control strategies may include some or all of the following at different stages along the supply chain: contractual supply systems, use of selective cultivation areas, physical segregation, processing controls, sampling and testing.
Controls on GMO presence in soya consignments are often based on analytical testing, however, testing, at whatever stage in the supply chain does not guarantee that a minute trace of an asynchronous or obsolete GMO will not be present. In the absence of a technical solution for food, testing by operators does not help in reducing the legal uncertainty associated with the fact that any result below 0.1% may be considered as a non-compliance even if at this level, the robustness (in particular the reproducibility associated with the result) is not satisfactory. For business operators, tests can only give an indication of the statistical probability of finding a GM event but are not effective risk management tools.
EUVEPRO members who are active in the import of soya beans and the manufacture of soya proteins have in place stringent non-GM IP systems, all of which contain in-built risk management control strategies, such as those mentioned above, and which usually include GMO testing at certain stages of the supply chain as part of contractual arrangements.
Despite all of the efforts to implement risk management strategies however, it is to be expected that maintaining existing import flows will be more difficult to sustain in coming years. Risk assessment by crop and geography is clearly showing increased planting and harvesting of GM varieties worldwide, this together with the continuing difference in the speed of GM authorization between the exporting countries and the EU, increases the risk that asynchronous and obsolete GM events will be found in imports.
If the current EU regulatory situation with a feed only technical solution remains unchanged, in coming years, soya protein producers will become increasingly exposed to the risk of supply disruption and considerable financial loss. A similar technical solution for food would provide EUVEPRO member companies the legal certainty they need in order to operate.
According to EU law (Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 and No 1830/2003), products that contain or consist of authorised GMOs or are produced from GMOs must be clearly labelled as such. This is “positive” GMO labelling legislation. However, foods containing authorised GM material at <0.9% are not required to carry GMO labelling provided that this presence is adventitious or technically unavoidable.
In addition to what is prescribed by the EU legislation, labelling to highlight that specific measures have been taken to strictly exclude the presence or the use of GMOs in food or feed products (so-called ‘negative labelling’) is neither forbidden nor specifically regulated at EU level: currently there is no “harmonised” GMO-free legislation in the European Union.
However, where positive GMO labelling is mandatory, the additional voluntary labelling of products as “GMO-free” is unnecessary and will not bring any added value for consumers. On the contrary, it may cause consumers’ confusion and be a hindrance to clarity. Moreover it would be extremely difficult to enforce GMO-free communications, and is contrary to the general principles of EU legislation, which is to avoid negative labelling.
The EU Food and Feed Chain (FFC) brings together EU stakeholders in the area of production, trade and use of agricultural products whose members are directly impacted by EU policies related to GMOs.
FFC partners are deeply concerned about the new delays in the European Commission’s decision-making process regarding the authorisation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) for food, feed and imports, as well as the potential effects of these delays on the EU agri-food chain, and addressed these concerns on a letter to key decision makers in April 2016.