Unlabelled GM food threat from Europe

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EUROPEAN COMMISSION plans to allow food to contain up to 1 per cent genetically modified material without being labelled are being opposed by British consumer groups.

EUROPEAN COMMISSION plans to allow food to contain up to 1 per cent genetically modified material without being labelled are being opposed by British consumer groups.

Several big retailers, including Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury, Waitrose and Iceland, have already adopted far lower thresholds for GM contents than the EU's proposed limit, to be debated by ministers on Thursday.

In Britain, a maximum GM content of 0.1 per cent is emerging as the consensus standard, and food companies want to reduce levels further.

Environmental groups, including the Soil Association, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, are also lobbying the Government to put the level at 0.01 per cent - the limit for detection. They also want GM-content audit trails through the food chain.

"We have set a limit of 0.1 per cent as both realistic and achievable and we are looking to reduce this still further," said a Sainsbury's representative. "We believe that 1 per cent is too high and our ultimate aim is to reach zero."

Marks & Spencer aims to have no detectable contamination. "If we were to find any contamination at all in a spot check - even 0.01 per cent - we would withdraw the product," it said.

Nestle is also aiming for lower levels. "We believe it should be possible in the foreseeable future for the agricultural supply chain to operate consistently to lower levels than those proposed," it said.

Environmental groups believe the 1 per cent proposal is a way of preparing for the widespread introduction of GM crops. They are seeking levels that would in effect exclude the crops from the countryside by the need to prevent contamination of non-GM crops.

"The Government must listen to the public mood on this issue and fight for much tougher standards," said Peter Riley of Friends of the Earth. "Anything less would be a victory for the biotech industry and its policy of trying to flood the market with unsegregated GM ingredients."

The Ministry of Agriculture said: "We are currently consulting widely on this issue and we will listen carefully to comments received, which will inform out position."

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