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Open letter to EU agriculture ministers demands labelling for all products with new genetic engineering

As part of the VLOG Forum to mark the 15th anniversary of the "Ohne GenTechnik" seal, the heads of frozen food producer Frosta and the Berchtesgadener Land dairy presented the new initiative by German food enterprises against the liberalisation of GMO legislation. The open letter, which was co-initiated by the companies Alb-Gold, Alnatura, Andechser and dm, is an appeal to Cem Özdemir and all other EU agriculture ministers to support the labelling and traceability of all products produced with new genetic engineering. The open letter is available in eight languages on the VLOG website and is looking for many more signatories in all EU countries.

Bernhard Pointner, Managing Director of the Berchtesgadener Land dairy cooperative, and Felix Ahlers, CEO of frozen food manufacturer Frosta, presented the initiative and called for transparent labelling of foods produced using new genomic techniques (NGT). (Photo: Karin Heinze)

GMO plans are against consumer protection and fair competition

"In the interests of consumer protection and fair competition, we are joining forces with our 1,600 farmers to oppose the EU Commission's plans for genetic engineering. We want the labelling and traceability obligations adopted by the EU Parliament to remain in force. According to a recent GfK study, the majority of our regular customers reject genetically engineered food," said Bernhard Pointner, Managing Director of the Berchtesgadener Land dairy cooperative, at the "VLOG Forum 2024" organised by the Verband Lebensmittel ohne Gentechnik (VLOG) on 20 June 2024 in Berlin. Felix Ahlers, CEO of frozen food manufacturer Frosta, added: "Transparency creates trust. FRoSTA has stood for maximum transparency for over 20 years. Everyone should be able to understand whether food has been produced with or without genetic engineering so that they can make the right decision. Only with this knowledge can food producers and farmers differentiate themselves. That is why the labelling obligation must also be maintained for new genetic engineering.

Around 100 business representatives participated in the VLOG Forum and welcomed the initiative. (Photo: Karin Heinze)

No agreement among EU agriculture ministers

The EU agriculture ministers disagree on various issues relating to the EU Commission's deregulation plans for European genetic engineering legislation. The EU Commission's plans include largely abolishing the labelling requirement for new genetic engineering in food. Despite all attempts by the Belgian Council Presidency, the legislative project could not be finalised before the European elections. According to insiders, no agreement is expected in the short term either. The otherwise very controversial experts Heike Moldenhauer (ENGA), Eva Bell (BMEL) and Klaus Berend (EU Commission) largely agreed on this in the discussion round at the VLOG Forum.

A controversial discussion at the VLOG Forum (from left): Eva Bell (BMEL), Heike Moldenhauer (ENGA) and Klaus Berend from Brussels (EU Commission). (Photo: Karin Heinze)

Solutions sought for patents, labelling and coexistence

In the panel discussion entitled "New debate on genetic engineering after the European elections: Solutions for patents, labelling and coexistence", Dr Klaus Berend (EU Commission, DG SANTE) vehemently defended the EU Commission's position that NGT plants (NGT1) should be placed on an equal footing with classical breeds and that labelling should be abolished. However, Berend answered the question about a solution to patenting issues evasively and referred to a study that should provide clarity next year. He did not provide an answer to the question of how traceability and labelling of imports should be dealt with.

Heike Moldenhauer, Secretary General of the European Non-GMO Association (ENGA), pointed out the risks of a new regulation and agreed with Eva Bell that there are still many open questions to be clarified and that solutions are needed that take all stakeholders on board. Bell (pictured left), former President of the Baden-Württemberg State Institute for the Environment and Managing Director of Verbraucherzentrale Berlin e.V., pleaded for solutions that allow for functioning coexistence and freedom of choice, as well as for the clarification of open patenting issues. She emphasised that - supported by surveys - labelling and transparency in any application of genetic engineering methods had emerged as a central consumer wish. She also made it clear that the BMEL does not want to ignore the will of consumers or the interests of the non-GM and organic sectors. Moldenhauer explained: "We have existing legislation and we have a proposal from the Commission, but it still contains many unanswered questions." Therefore, more time is needed to find solutions to the complex issues of labelling and coexistence and, above all, to the patent issue.

Author: Karin Heinze, BiO Reporter International

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