The European Union market for honey is in turmoil after the European Court of Justice ruled that any pollen in honey derived from genetically modified plants constitutes a GM ingredient and must be authorized for sale in the EU and, if permitted, labeled.
The decision places a huge question mark over the future marketing in the EU of food and beverage products, and dietary supplements, containing honey-based ingredients that may contain GM pollen—wherever in the world the honey has been produced.
In theory, it means that if a product contains a honey-based ingredient that contains GM pollen, the GM plant from which the pollen came must now be authorized in the EU for the product to be permitted for sale on the EU market. If it is not, then the product will be banned.
However, even if it is authorized, the GM pollen will have to be declared on the label. This is likely to be a real blow to the food industry since, unlike many consumers in the US market, the majority of EU shoppers are vehemently opposed to buying products containing GM ingredients.
The ruling came as a result of a dispute between the State of Bavaria, in Germany, which grows GM maize on several plots, and a local beekeeper. In its judgment, the court said: “The Court observes that pollen is not a foreign substance or an impurity, but rather a normal component of honey, with the result that it must indeed be classified as an ‘ingredient’.
“The pollen in question consequently comes within the scope of the regulation [on GM foods] and must be subject to the authorization scheme provided for thereunder before being placed on the market.”
Irene Wohlfahrt, scientific consultant at Germany-based regulatory consultancy Analyze & Realize, said: “According to our understanding, this ruling means that all honeys that are produced within the range of GMOs can potentially contain GM pollen.
“If that is the case, and GM pollen is found in a honey above a certain amount, the honey in question needs to contain a reference to GMOs on the label, and it needs to obtain a marketing permission. Theoretically, this applies to all honeys produced outside of the EU.
“Also, we understand from this ruling that all dietary supplements made from honeys containing GM pollen are subject to the same ruling.”