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New EU thresholds for transgenics worry Canadian ag exporters

(Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2002 -- CropChoice news) --

Reuters: Industry sources said that Canadian shippers will find it difficult to meet new tolerance levels proposed for genetically modified (GM) grain in the European Union. EU farm ministers agreed last week to require food and feed containing 0.9 percent or more GM grain to be labeled as such, starting next year. Accidental traces of unauthorized GM grain would be allowed up to a 0.5 percent level for the first three years.

The draft agreement will now return for approval to the European Parliament, where some legislators are calling for stricter tolerances.

The draft rules also apply to labeling of foods produced from GM crops. This means Canadian canola oil, which is produced from GM crops but does not contain the DNA nor protein of GM origin, would have to be labeled, a move that Barb Isman, president of the Canola Council of Canada, called disappointing, adding, "This is not a health and safety issue for food: this is purely political."

Currently, Canadian farmers grow GM canola, soybeans and corn, none of which is approved by Europe. Small amounts of non-GM soybeans are shipped from Canada to Europe.

The draft rules could also hold implications for a debate over whether GM wheat should be commercialized in Canada.

Patty Rosher, who manages GM issues at the Canadian Wheat Board, said, "The European market is very important to us and if we saw that there were unreasonable tolerance levels there ... we just would not allow GM wheat to go on the market. It would just be too much of a negative impact on farmers' income."

Monsanto Canada spokeswoman Trish Jordan said the company has promised to wait to commercialize the wheat until major markets have established reasonable tolerances, and that the company plans to produce the wheat only under tightly controlled contracts outside the bulk-grain-handling system, adding, "GM wheat is a research project that's a long way away from commercialization. It's our ability to meet our commitments that will determine when we launch."

But even if GM wheat production is segregated, Rosher said small amounts of seed inevitably would slip into the bulk grain handling system. Canada could meet tolerance levels of 5 percent, although even those levels would be "difficult and risky," she said.