BRUSSELS, Belgium - The director of Europe's principal consumer lobby has dismissed as inadequate European Union attempts to legislate a better deal for consumers with respect to genetically modified foods.

The latest attempt - a new regulation requiring labeling to indicate food and food ingredients that contain genetically modified DNA or protein - is “almost entirely irrelevant,“ said Jim Murray, head of the Bureau de Européen des Unions de Consommateurs (BEUC).

“In BEUC, we think this new regulation does little or nothing to meet the needs of consumers or to respect consumers' right to know.“

The regulation, formally adopted by the European Union (EU) council in late May and now coming into effect across the 15 EU member states, stipulates that foods and food ingredients using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) be labeled to indicate their GMO origin.

Murray said this is not enough. “We strongly believe that consumers should be able to choose whether to eat or not to eat food and food ingredients derived from genetic modification,“ he wrote in a blistering attack.

“Therefore, non-genetically modified food should be available, in the first place, and consumers should have information as to which products do and do not contain genetically modified ingredients. Sadly, neither of these conditions are met at the moment.“

Many Packaged Foods Contain GMO Products

Murray said 60 percent of packaged or processed foods in Europe contain soya derivatives, and since most soya in Europe comes from the U.S., “where genetically modified soya beans and traditional soya beans are mixed together,“ it is difficult for European manufacturers to obtain soybean supplies that do not include at least some genetically modified soya.

“If present trends continue,“ he warned, “most packaged foods will soon contain ingredients made from genetically modified soya“ - ranging from biscuits and baby foods to prepared meals and breakfast cereals. As a result, “consumers who do not wish to eat genetically modified food will soon have to avoid most packaged foods.“

Even the EU's new information requirements are full of loopholes, he observed. The new regulation “will not help very much, because it will not apply to most genetically modified foods on the market.“

Murray said the main food ingredients made from genetically modified soya are soya oil and soya lethicin, “which do not normally contain DNA or protein - and therefore will not have to be labeled. Even when protein or DNA is originally present in a food ingredient, it can often be destroyed by processing, meaning that labeling is not required.“

Murray estimated that as a result only one in 20 foods containing genetically modified soya will require labeling under the EU regulation.

BEUC is running a campaign calling for wider consumer choice. It is especially targeting the standard U.S. practice of mixing genetically modified and traditional soya.

“By actions at the EU and national level we hope to change industry practices. Large European food manufacturers have enough power to demand non-genetically modified supplies.“

BEUC said it is “not against genetically modified food, but we think consumers should have a choice. This means a guaranteed supply of non-genetically modified ingredients.“ *