A new EU directive requiring labels for genetically modified (GM) food took effect Sunday: Some hailed it as a way to give people more choice, opponents said it did not go far enough as it excludes animal products.
No mutant tomatoes, please: GM food protest in Stuttgart on Sunday
European shoppers are unlikely to come across a product marked "genetically modified" in the near future, however, as most food companies are relying on polls saying that more than two-thirds of EU population reject such items.
"Nothing's going to change for the time being," Peter Traumann, the head of the Federation of German Food and Drink Industries (BVE), told daily Berliner Zeitung, adding that it would be too risky for companies to market GM products as most people reject the idea of eating such food. "Producers have prepared themselves and only use non-GM ingredients," Traumann said.
In the long term, GM foods are likely to become more prevalent, however, as other products using non-GM ingredients would get too expensive, Traumann predicted. The German environmentalist organization BUND expects oil made out of genetically modified soy or rape, ketchup made from GM tomatoes and cornflakes of popcorn made from GM corn to hit the shelves.
According to the new EU directive, any product in stores or restaurants that has come in contact with genetically modified ingredients will have to be marked as such. However the same doesn't apply to products such as meat, milk and eggs from animals that have been fed GM crops, causing environmentalists to criticize the regulation.
It's up to the consumer now
While agreeing that the exemption of animal products was problematic, German Consumer Minister Renate Künast (photo) welcomed the new requirement and said people should vote with their shopping carts whether they wanted to see more GM products on the shelves.
Künast added that consumers would have to be careful and read the small print on products to find out whether they contained GM ingredients. She also expressed her anger over the opposition Christian Democrats, who blocked Künast's plan in Germany's parliament's upper house to impose a €50,000 ($60,200) fine on offenders . As a result, no penalties currently exist in Germany for those who do not comply with the directive.
Products likely to get more expensive
Consumer rights advocates meanwhile warned that the new regulation would likely lead to an increase in prices by about 10 percent as companies would have to submit their products for additional tests.
"Who other than the consumer is supposed to pay for this," asked Ralf Alsfeld, a spokesman for ecological agriculture association Bioland, in an interview with Der Tagesspiegel newspaper.