Byrne defends GM label laws but raises hopes of a review

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food

commissioner accepts need for possible 'fine tuning' of rules

European commissioner for health and consumer protection David Byrne has left the door open to a revision of laws introduced in April on the labelling of genetically modified (GM) foods.

Experts in food law have slated the regulations as being inconsistent, claiming that while some products with low GM content are covered, others with higher levels are exempt (Food Manufacture,November 2003, p8).

Byrne claimed the rules were necessary to reassure a sceptical public and to allow "informed choices" about purchases. "I think our legislation is very fair and balanced," he said.

However, he conceded that it was necessary to "draw the line somewhere" in the use of GM enzymes in food processing. "If, over time, we decide fine tuning is necessary, there is the ability within two years to review it."

However, Byrne's term of office ends in October and his successor is unknown.

Addressing an international food conference in Dublin organised by Teagasc, the Agricultural and Food Development Authority in Ireland, Byrne admitted that with a raft of food safety controls now in place, the main challenge was "practical implementation and effective enforcement". He also called for greater progress on international relations where "trade-related issues have been the root cause" of many disputes.

"As we look to the future in a more trade-liberalised world, we must have greater reliance on solutions based on science," he said. "We cannot replace quotas and tariffs with other technical barriers in any unjustified way."

He hoped that Europe's adoption of the "precautionary principle", which comes into effect in January, will "act as a restraint on public authorities intent on protectionism or over-zealous interpretations of what constitutes legitimate consumer protection"

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