Six months after they were enacted, Europe?s GM food and feed traceability regulations are presenting logistical difficulties and could lead to higher prices for non-GM commodities, according to industry experts.
At the time the legislation was being thrashed out, the UK-based Food and Drink Federation expressed concerns at its practicality, proportionality and enforceability. The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) questioned how traceability systems would work for ?commodity crops grown in third world countries.??
These concerns have now become a reality as supplements and food manufacturers are forced to shift to suppliers who can produce the intricate paper trail the legislation demands. Previously, a batch test for genetically modified organisms to determine a product?s GM status was sufficient. However, with one or two exceptions, the new regulations state even those foods with no GM material but which were produced from GMOs must be labelled GM.
Implementing these traceability procedures is placing huge financial strains on both raw material suppliers and manufacturers — costs that will inevitably be recouped at the point of sale.
?Major companies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars adapting to this legislation,? supplements manufacturer Herbalife International?s vice president of government and industry affairs, Ric Hobby, told FF&N. ?Eventually these costs will be passed onto the consumer and it is then consumers might start questioning just how much they care about whether the foods and supplements they buy are GM or not.?
While Herbalife agrees with the legislation?s stated aim to empower consumers in choosing between GM and non-GM foods, Hobby said it is overly complex and technically flawed.
Another supplements manufacturer, Merck-owned Seven Seas, said it requested non-GM verification certificates from its suppliers every six months for raw materials such as vitamin E, maise starch and soy oil. ?The prices of some of these materials has risen, and it may get more difficult to access non-GM ingredients in the future,? said regulatory affairs manager Suham Sidani. ?We?ve absorbed these cost increases for now and our policy remains non-GM, but retail prices may increase.?
Industry consultant Chris Whitehouse said the legislation was particularly unworkable when it came to bulk commodities such as soybeans. ?The legislation requires the source must be verifiable, which is rather optimistic. It effectively means every soybean has to be bar coded to meet the requirements. It?s not possible, so the question is: ?Is the consumer any better informed than before???
The UK Trading Standards authority was exercising maximum flexibility in enforcing the new regulations, at least until 2005. ?The legislation is not intended to apply retrospectively and so material should be allowed to clear the distribution chain,? it said.
European-level discussions were being held to discuss whether production of goods involving a fermentation process using GM micro-organisms falls within the regulations, an FSA spokesperson said. An EC memo acquired by FF&N indicated such products would be exempted from the regulations. An official review of the legislation will be conducted at the end of 2005.