European Lawmakers Pressed to Label Biotech Animal Feeds

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 30, 2001 (ENS) - Many Europeans do not want their cattle fed with meat and bonemeal nor with genetically modified grains. Environmental groups today demanded swift action from the European Union to require labelling of animal feeds containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

Today, representatives of nongovernmental organizations picketed a regular meeting of European Union agriculture ministers to highlight their concerns.

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Greenpeace volunteers hang from the grain cargo ship in Aarhus, Denmark. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
On Monday, Danish riot police arrested 41 Greenpeace activists who chained themselves to the bulk carrier Explorer, which had come from Argentina carrying 20,000 tons of genetically engineered grains destined for animal feed.

Greenpeacers prevented the Italian ship from unloading its cargo at the port of Aarhus in Denmark, for 44 hours until the ship was raided by Danish riot police in the predawn hours Monday.

Environmentalists, consumers and pure foods advocates fear that European imports of bioengineered feed could mushroom as a result of the recent European Union wide ban on feeding meat and bonemeal to livestock.

The ban was imposed due to fears over the cattle disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease. Mad cow disease has been linked to a fatal brain disease in humans called new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nvCJD).

BSE is spread by feeding healthy cattle meat and bonemeal made from cows that carried the disease undetected. Without human intervention, cattle are vegetarian.

The European Commission suggested developing European Union labelling rules for genetically modified animal feeds nearly four years ago, in July of 1997, but only announced firm plans last January.

A draft law promised for September has still to emerge, while rules on labelling genetically modified foods for human consumption were agreed a year ago.

Covering foods for humans, the European Commission formally approved a regulation in January 2000 that requires manufacturers to prove their raw materials come from non-genetically modified stocks and ensure that accidental GM contamination of any ingredient does not exceed one percent. Producers have to label products as genetically modified if they cannot meet these standards.

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British cattle at feeding time (Photo by Ian Britton, courtesy Freefoto.com)
"The European Commission needs to send a strong signal to the major genetically engineered animal feed exporters, Argentina and the U.S., that labeling of all genetically engineered animal feed imports into Europe will be mandatory by the latter half of this year," said Brigid Gavin of Greenpeace Europe.

Recently there have been drops in European Union imports of maize (corn) and soya from countries like the United States where genetically modified plantings have become common. The pure foods and environmental groups fear imports will now rise again.

Nations exporting non-genetically modified foods have benefited so far, but will be hard pressed to meet the expected surge in European demand for soya and maize following the European Union's meat and bonemeal ban.