Friends of the Earth has criticised the decision by EU Ministers to allow organic food to be contaminated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). EU Agriculture Ministers, including the UK, have adopted a new law which allows organic food containing up to 0.9 percent of GM content to be classed – and labelled – as organic. Furthermore, consumers would not be notified of any GM presence below this 0.9 per cent threshold. [1].

Environmental groups have hit out at the decision for going against the principle of consumer choice. Organic farming is the most competitive and environmentally friendly agricultural sector and in Europe it is creating new jobs and has wide public support [2].

Under current European GM labelling rules, any GM content of non-organic food must be labelled unless it is below 0.9 per cent and is “adventitious or technically unavoidable” – ie accidental. Now the same rules will apply to organic food. Current organic standards in the UK set by the Soil Association and other certifiers prohibit any GM content in organic food.

Today’s decision could have significant implications for the rules European countries put in place to control GM contamination of conventional and organic crops in the field – so called ‘coexistence’ measures. The UK Government and European Commission have interpreted the 0.9 per cent labelling threshold as a target for allowable GM content, rather than a buffer for accidental contamination. And Defra has used this interpretation to justify proposals for weak rules to control GM contamination from GM crops, if and when they are grown in England [3]. A legal opinion from leading European law experts found this approach to be “fundamentally flawed” [4]. Public consultations on ‘coexistence’ measures in Wales and Scotland are expected this year. Northern Ireland adopted the same approach as Defra.

Friends of the Earth’s GM Campaigner Clare Oxborrow said:

“Allowing organic food to be contaminated with GM material is completely unacceptable. EU Ministers have put the interest on the biotech industry ahead of consumers who believe that organic food should be produced to strict environmental standards. Organic farmers will now find it increasingly difficult to protect their crops from GM. This vote must not be used as a green light to allow routine GM contamination. The EU and UK must now introduce tough legislation to protect organic and conventional farmers from genetic pollution.”

The European Parliament and environmental groups had called for the threshold of contamination of organic food to be 0.1 per cent, which is the current accepted limit of detection for genetically modified organisms.


[1] The new law agreed today in the Agriculture Council allows 0.9% GMO contamination in organic foods as long as it is “adventitious” or technically unavoidable”. However there is evidence that the European Commission and UK Government are adopting a lax attitude to contamination and are interpreting the 0.9 percent threshold to mean “acceptable” contamination. The organic sector currently works to a lower threshold and EU laws should support and enable organic farmers and retailers to maintain existing standards.

FoEE_biotech_MTR_midlifecrisis_March07.pdf (PDF)

[3] Defra’s proposals for coexistence measures for England (PDF) (link no longer available)

coexistence_legal_summary.pdf (PDF)

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