“GM-free”- what is allowed?

Source: www.transgen.de

Since May 1, 2008, the EC Genetic Engineering Implementation Act (EG-Gentechnik-Durchführungsgesetz) has enacted special statutory provisions in Germany for the labelling of foods produced without genetic engineering. The requirements for this vary - depending on whether the food is of animal or non-animal origin. You can find an info graphic on "Without genetic engineering" labelling on the BMEL website.

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. The beginning and length of the period of GMO "free" feeding is determined by the EC Genetic Engineering Implementation Act.

  • 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.

Special case: Honey

In accordance with the German Honey Ordinance, honey is the natural substance produced by honey bees, for which the bees collect nectar from plants, secretions from living parts of plants or excretions from insects which suck from plants. Afterwards, they enrich these with their own substances, above all enzymes, and allow the substance to mature in honeycombs.

If the bees collect nectar from a genetically-modified plant, the pollen of the plant containing the genetic modification can also be collected and get into the honey.

In 2011, the ECJ classified the pollen in honey as an ingredient, and not as a natural component. Honey containing GMO pollen received the status of a ‘produced from GMOs’ foodstuff. This triggered compulsory labelling if the proportion of GMO pollen was found to be higher than 0.9% of the total proportion of pollen.

The ECJ ruling was revised during the revision of the European Honey Directive and the national Honey Ordinance, as pollen was then defined as a natural component of honey. Due to this change, the determined proportion of GMO pollen is no longer related to the proportion of the pollen in honey, but rather to the honey in total. However, the proportion of pollen and other water-insoluble components in honey generally totals a maximum of 0.1%. In practice, the labelling regulations for genetically-modified organisms in honey are therefore rendered inapplicable. 1

If, however, pollen from genetically-modified varieties not approved in the EU is found in honey, then it is classified as non-marketable.

The ifp offers GMO analytics for honey upon customer request. These analytics comprise comprehensive molecular-biological screening as well as identification and quantification.

1 Statement No. 2016/01: Guidelines for the inspection of genetically-modified changes in foodstuffs

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“.