Labeling is a popular topic. We’ve received a lot of questions requesting more information about international labeling and bans. Unfortunately, we are not aware of a single authoritative source which provides a comprehensive look at international labeling. In fact, we’ve compared multiple sources and note there are discrepancies between the various sources. To the best of our knowledge based on information from these sources and independent research, there are approximately 64 – 74 countries that have some form of voluntary or mandatory labeling regime for GMO’s, but they are not all equal in terms of adoption, exemptions, or level of enforcement.
Cathleen Enright, Executive Director of the Council for Biotechnology Information, recently posted a response which further explores international bans on GMO food products. An excerpt is included below:
I’m aware of only one country, Kenya, with a ban in place on all GMO food imports. The decision came about in November 2012, apparently during a cabinet meeting, that circumvented the existing Kenyan Biosafety Act and the National Biosafety Authority, the regulatory agency established to regulate the use of GMOs. There are a few bans in place for the import of specific GMO foods, but these restrictions are based on non-scientific factors – for example, cultural sensitivity or political expediency (see below). Of the 59 countries around the world that have functional regulatory systems, none of these have bans on GMO food imports.
I think the false assertion that GMOs are broadly banned comes about when countries with regulatory systems for GMOs have not yet made a final determination or approval. For example, some may incorrectly believe that the EU has a ban on GMOs for food and animal feed because of polarized public opinion and extended delays in the EU approval process, particularly the final step—a political decision-making process in which the member states vote on the European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) scientific opinion. By mid-2011, 39 GM products were approved for food and feed use in the EU, but 72 approvals were stuck at the political decision-making step. All had received favorable opinions from EFSA. Despite the GMO controversy in the EU, it imports 72 percent (2011) of the protein-rich feed needed to support its livestock industry from Brazil, Argentina and the United States, the vast majority of which is GMO.
The EU approval process for the cultivation of GMOs suffers from even greater delays, again due to the political paralysis that plagues the approval process. Just two GMO products are approved for planting, but eight EU member states (France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Luxemburg, Austria, Hungary and Greece) have indeed banned one of those products, an insect resistant corn variety, citing environmental concerns that EFSA has reiterated are not justified. These bans are good examples of political expediency interfering with risk-based decision-making. Meanwhile, Spain and Portugal continue to grow this corn variety on a commercial scale.
The scientific processes and requirements for assessing the safety of GMOs are largely similar around the world, and the regulatory authorities in the EU, Japan, China, Brazil, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and many, many others have each determined that GMOs are substantially equivalent to their non GMO counterparts. The same cannot be said for mandatory labeling laws however. None are based on safety or health concerns. In fact, the wide diversity in the requirements globally demonstrates that the safety, health, or nutrition associated with GMO food had no bearing in the decision to implement mandatory labeling requirements. For example around the world, thresholds for requiring a product be labeled GMO range from 0.9 – 5 percent of the product’s GMO content. GMO oils, sugars, and GMO processing aids such as starches, yeasts and bacteria used to make food are often exempted, as is GMO animal feed. Many of the labeling requirements also are enforced on a discretionary basis or not at all (http://www.isaaa.org/kc/Publications/htm/articles/Labeling/countries.htm).
The full response can be viewed here:
This response below, provided by Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, Former Director for Agricultural Biotechnology, EuropaBio, provides additional resources about international GMO labeling.
In the European Union, GM labelling is mandatory for all food and feed products consisting of, containing, or obtained from GM plants when this is above 0.9% of that ingredient. The 0.9% threshold was determined by political co-decision and has no foundation in any scientific finding or fact.
GM labelling has nothing to do with food safety. It is for commercial purposes in order to distinguish between GM, conventional and organic products when they are sold to consumers as they correspond to different market segments. The principle behind GM labelling in Europe is freedom of choice – both for consumers and farmers; unfortunately with illegal bans implemented in some EU countries, governments do not comply with the ‘freedom of choice’ principle for farmers as they deprive them from planting approved GM crops.
A map of where GMOs are approved for cultivation, food, feed and trial is available here: http://gmoanswers.com/public-review.
If you have additional questions after reading this response, please ask.