“GM-free”- what is allowed?

Source: www.transgen.de

Special labelling provisions have been in force in Germany since May 1st 2008 regarding food that was produced without genetic engineering. The requirements in this context differ, depending on whether the food item in question is from an animal or non-animal source.

Animal source foods

Labelling animal source foods such as meat, eggs or milk as “GM-free” is subject to special criteria. These criteria refer exclusively to what the animals were fed on.

  • Although animal feed from genetically modified plants is generally not allowed, certain genetic engineering techniques applied to feed do not conflict with a "GM-free“ declaration:
  • The ban on gm forage crops refers to a defined period prior to processing. For pigs, for example, this period is specified as the last four months before slaughtering, for milk-producing animals it is the last three months and for eggs from chicken the last six weeks are relevant.
  • Adventitious, technically unavoidable additions of approved GMO in animal feed is permitted if it remains below the threshold of 0.9 per cent.

Also acceptable are animal feed additives such as vitamins, amino acids or enzymes that are manufactured with the help of genetically modified microorganisms. Animals may also be treated with genetically engineered medicine or vaccines.

A lot of animal feed contains genetically engineered additives. This is intended to compensate for a lack of nutrients in plant feed (such as the amino acids lysine or methionine). Other additives are designed to improve an animal’s nutrient uptake (e.g. the enzymes amylase or phytase) or vitamin supply (such as vitamin B2). Animal feed with additives produced by such gm microorganisms may be used in „GM-free” food without restriction.

The requirements that apply to the other ingredients in GM-free food are stricter than those that apply to animal feed. For instance, it is not allowed to use chymosin (rennet ferment) produced with genetically modified microorganisms in GM-free cheese.

Other foodstuffs

“GM-free” labelling requirements for other foodstuffs are stricter. Not allowed are:

  • Ingredients or additives from genetically modified plants
  • Additives such as vitamins, amino acids, flavourings or enzymes that were produced with the help of genetically modified microorganisms
    Exception: If the genetically engineered additives are approved according to the EU Eco Regulation and if there are no GM-free alternatives.
  • Adventitious or technically unavoidable traces of GMO

However, it is standard practise performed by the authorities not to pursue concentrations below the technical limit of detection of 0.1%, provided the GMO at hand has been approved.

Previous “GM-free” regulation

Legal regulations concerning GM-free labelling in Germany existed even between 1998 and 2008. These regulations ruled out any use of genetic engineering at all any level of processing. Since it was extremely complicated to prove GM-free production at all levels, there were hardly any food items labelled „GM-free“.