BRUSSELS, Belgium ¿ The European Commission is planning to ease some of the requirements it has recently imposed on the labeling of foods and food ingredients produced using genetically modified soya and maize.

Since the adoption of a European Union (EU) regulation in June 1998, which went into effect on Sept. 1, there is a blanket obligation on companies to label a food or food ingredients containing traces of DNA or protein resulting from genetic modification.

Martin Bangemann, commissioner for European industry affairs, said recently he hoped to make a proposal before the end of March for a minimum detection threshold for genetically modified DNA and proteins under which specific labeling would not be required when the presence of such DNA or proteins in a food are the result of accidental contamination.

The commission has been assessing all available data, and is still examining the question in association with the EU national governments and industry.

When EU ministers adopted the regulation, they already had the possibility of some exemptions in mind, and invited the European Commission to encourage the development of validated detection methods for DNA and proteins resulting from genetic modification. They also said the commission should examine the scope for setting a minimum threshold for the presence of DNA or protein resulting from genetic modification, in order to take account of the problem of accidental contamination.

Series Of Initiatives Launched

Bangemann said the commission has launched a series of initiatives via its Joint Research Centre, to develop analysis and detection methods. A method for the detection of genetically modified material in soya or maize flour has been validated, and work is continuing on the development of qualitative and quantitative methods for foods containing genetically modified soya and maize, as well as quantitative methods for numerous processed products.

The commission is also preparing a ¿negative list¿ of products not subject to the specific additional labeling requirements outlined in the 1998 regulation. On the basis of contributions from the member states and industry, the commission has sent its scientific committee for food some technical proposals on food products and ingredients that no longer contain traces of DNA or protein and are, as a result, no longer subject to the labeling requirement.

As soon as the committee delivers its opinion, the commission will set up the list, which is provided for by the regulation.

However, this proposal ¿ along with many others ¿ could be subject to delays, now that the 20 European commissioners who run the commission (the heart of the EU civil service and administration) have resigned as a block, after a critical independent report highlighted cases of mismanagement, fraud and nepotism within the commission.

Particularly targeted was the research commissioner, Edith Cresson, a former French prime minister who was criticized for employing her friend, a retired dentist, as a highly paid consultant on EU research into AIDS. Until the heads of the EU member states appoint a new college of commissioners, no new initiatives will be taken by the commission. A summit of EU leaders in Berlin this month may decide the next step.