Finnish ministers stir up GM meat debate

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union, Gm

Politicians in Finland are stoking debate over labelling
of meat products from animals fed with genetically-modified feed,
in the interests of consumer rights.

Under European Union regulations, meat from animals fed imported GM feed does not need to be labelled as GM and the feed origin does not need to be identified. But when, this month, two Finnish meat producers, LSO Foods and Lounais-farmi, declared their intention to import GM soybeans for use as pig feed, agriculture minister Sirkka-Liisa Anttilahat of the Suomen Keskusta party called on the food industry to label use of GM feed on meat products. "Consumers must have the right to know how, and with what sort of feed, meat is produced,"​ she said. According to Finnish news sources, the trade and industry minister has also mooted the idea of a working group to address labelling of meat from animals not​ raised on genetically modified feed, amongst other issues. A voluntary system would, he said, create a chain of trust between the farmer, the industry and retailers. A recent survey by newspaper Helsingin Sanomat​ found that half of Finns "completely disapprove"​ of GM feed, and more than 90 per cent agree that meat from GM-reared animals should be labelled as such. However the meat companies' decision to shift to GM soy is understandable from a financial point of view. There is already a gulf between the cost of non-GM and GM soy, and that gulf is continuing to grow as more and more soy producers in Brazil switch to GM varieties. This means that the price of meat from animals fed non-GM feed is likely to rise in the long term, as suppliers are forced to pass on costs. The debate at ministerial level has caused Finland's Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK) to be drawn on its opinion. MTK officials said this week that they support voluntary labelling of food products to indicate any use of GM products in the production chain. But they added that such a measure could not be taken by Finland in isolation from the rest of the EU, since it would put domestic produce at a significant disadvantage to unlabelled imports. For now, however, a pan-EU change looks unlikely. The European Food Safety Authority recently conducted research into whether GMOs in animal feed could be carried through to meat for human consumption, following calls to the European Commission for meat from animals reared on GM feed to be labelled as such. But EFSA's conclusions, announced in late July, do not support changes at an EU level. It said there is no evidence that DNA fragments or proteins from plants survive the digestion process so as to be absorbed into animal tissue or turn up in by-products like milk and eggs. As for humans, it found that recombinant DNA did not survive passage through the intact gastrointestinal tract of healthy human subjects fed GM soy. In Europe, there has been far greater resistance to GMOs than in other parts of the world, most notably the United States. Consumers are extremely wary, and no new GMOs have been approved by the European Commission since 1998 (although some approvals have slipped through by default as a result of non-consensus).

Related topics: Meat, fish and savory ingredients

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