Environment, Agriculture, Public Health and Consumer Protection (Sub-Committee D)

Press Notice




A House of Lords report concludes that proposals by the EU Commission for more extensive labelling of food containing or derived from genetically modified organisms are unworkable.

No new genetically modified (GM) food has been approved in the EU since 1998, because seven Member States refuse to take part in the process until further laws on GM traceability and labelling are in place.

The Earl of Selborne, Chairman of the inquiry, said:

The Committee recognises that consumers may wish to avoid products in which genetic modification has played a part V for health, environmental or ethical reasons. They have a perfect right to choose between GM and non-GM products on the basis of the best information that can be made available.

However, we do not think that the EU proposals are the answer ƒ{ it is not practical to legislate for the degree of traceability envisaged by the Commission, particularly for bulk commodity imports such as soya and maize.¨

As a more practical way of meeting consumers¦ needs the Committee recommends:

  • Retaining the present labelling regime, but building on existing Identity Preserved (IP) and farm assurance schemes to meet consumers¦ demands for products where GM technology has not been used.

  • Restricting the term GM-free¨ to products where the complete absence of GM material (including food from animals fed on GM feed or produced with GM processing agents) can be guaranteed at all stages of production.

  • Clear labelling, reinforced by information from company websites, pamphlets and helplines.

The Committee confined its inquiry to the practicalities of traceability and labelling and did not for these purposes go into potential risks or benefits of GM technology to health and the environment. (These have been covered in other reports by Select Committees of both Houses.)


1. Genetic Modification is a technique where individual genes can be copied and transferred to another living organism to alter its genetic make up and thus incorporate or delete specific characteristics into or from the organism.

2. Under present laws any food or food ingredient with detectable levels of GM material must be labelled as containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

3. The Commission has presented a package of measures in two interdependent draft Regulations. The first would lay down new procedures for authorising and labelling of GM food and animal feeds, including products derived from GMOs (COM (01) 425); the second would create a harmonised system for tracing, identifying and labelling GMOs and products derived from GMOs at all stages of the production and food chain (COM (01) 182). The Commission want to extend labelling rules to all foods produced from GM crops, even if GM material is undetectable in the finished product. Labelling would not be required for food (meat, milk and eggs) from animals fed on GM feed, nor to products which used GMOs as processing agents (mainly wine and cheese).

4. The Commission¦s proposals have been made in response to demands from Member States who have been blocking approvals of new GMOs for release on to the European market. This de facto moratorium on approvals is considered illegal under WTO rules by the Commission and major (particularly US) producers of GM crops.

5. The inquiry was conducted by Sub-Committee D (Environment, Agriculture, Public Health and Consumer Protection) of the European Union Committee, whose current membership is:

Baroness Billingham

Lord Christopher

Lord Crickhowell

Lord Dubs

Lord Fyfe of Fairfield

Baroness Maddock

The Countess of Mar

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

Lord Palmer

The Earl of Selborne (Chairman)

Lord Walpole

6. The report is published by The Stationery Office: Labelling and Tracing of GM Food and Animal Feed: Informing the Consumer, HL Paper 117, ISBN 0-10-409802-3. The text (without evidence) will be on the internet on publication, accessible via http://www.parliament.uk

Further information from:

Enquiries about the Report

Tom Radice (Clerk to the Sub-Committee) on 020 7219 3015

Requests for advance copies and requests for interviews with Lord Selborne

Jillian Bailey on 020 7219 8659