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Consumer Choice

DW staff (jp)
January 15, 2008

With a view to creating greater transparency for consumers, Germany is to introduce a special label for food that has not been genetically modified, such as products from animals that have not been fed biotech grains.

Sun shining on corn in a field
According to the new law, 300 meters (985 feet) must seperate organic and GM cropsImage: dpa

Deputy Agriculture Minister Gert Lindemann said the new "non-GM" label will apply not only to non-genetically-modified crops but to eggs, meat and milk from animals that were raised without biotech feed.

For the last four years, German food manufacturers have had the option of labeling food containing traces of GM technology, although few have made use of it because of legal uncertainties. Officially, the certificate could only be used if gene technology was absent from the entire production process -- milk from a cow, for example, which had been treated with medicine manufactured using genetically modified micro-organisms could not be labeled GM-free.

The Bundestag, Germany's parliament, is expected to approve the law next week, allowing it to be introduced in spring.

Watchdogs approve

An anti-GM food sticker on a car
The new labels will improve transparencyImage: M.Nelioubin

Consumer watchdogs have hailed the move as a pragmatic solution. They say it provides farmers with greater motivation to avoid using genetically modified products such as corn and soya. In the past, they were more likely not to go to the trouble, since they knew they would not be allowed to use the non-GM label anyway.

"The new labeling will give consumers the choice to buy dairy products from animals that have not been fed with genetically modified plants," said Gerd Billen from the Federation of German Consumer Organizations in Tuesday's Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

"In future, the consumer will be in a position to make a political decision not to support gene technology in agriculture," agreed Thilo Bode from Foodwatch in the same article.

Experts also say that a rise in consumer demand for food carrying the new label might lead to an increase in demand for non-GM feed on the international market.

Misleading consumers?

A demonstration against GM food
Consumers demonstrate for the right to chooseImage: Joachim E. Röttgers

However, food that is manufactured using genetically modified ingredients such as additives, vitamins and amino acids can be marked with the new labeling.

This has prompted Germany's opposition to dismiss the proposed label as misleading, even though genetically modified additives may be used only when there is no alternative, they must comply with the EU's organic regulations and may no longer contain any genetically modified micro-organisms.

"This is a sneaky frontal attack on consumers and farmers who want to consume and produce non-GM products," said Renate Künast from the Green party.

The move was announced in Berlin on Sunday, Jan. 13, the same day the US said it would temporarily hold fire on sanctions on European Union goods in a last-ditch attempt to resolve a bitter trade dispute over genetically modified crops.

The EU missed a World Trade Organization deadline Friday to comply with a decision against EU restrictions on some genetically modified organisms.

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