Food (for humans or for livestock) has been, and still is, generally derived either from plants grown by humans or from animals raised and catered to by humans for thousands of years. Over time, the plants and animals with the most desirable characteristics were the ones selected for the continuous reproduction of quality food. This was the case, for example, with plants that demonstrated greater resistance to environmental circumstances, such as diseases, or those that overall generated increased crop productivity. These desirable characteristics appeared through natural modifications of the genetic composition of these plants and animals. In the recent past, techniques in modern biotechnology, otherwise known as gene technology, have made it possible to modify the genetic makeup of living cells and organisms. The genetic material is artificially modified to acquire new properties (e.g., increasing plant resistance to diseases, insects or drought, plant tolerance to herbicides, improved food quality or nutritional value, increased crop productivity, or resistance to environmental pressures, such as diseases). These organisms are called “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs). Food that consists of such GMOs, or is produced from GMOs, is called “genetically modified (GM) food”.
The EU, to date, has approved 58 GMOs for use in food or animal feed (that includes corn, cotton, soy, canola oil and sugar cane). 58 application dossiers are pending, 17 of which were approved by EFSA and 1 was inconclusive. The list of approved GM plants and the exact scope of their approval are available in the EU Register for genetically modified food at the following link: http://ec.europa.eu/food/dyna/gm_register/index_en.cfm.
EU legislation mandates the labeling of GMOs on all GM foods that consist of or are produced from GMOs, unless their presence is less than 0.9% of the food or the presence of the ingredient is accidental or technically unavoidable. Conversely, in the case of “GMO-free” labeling (indicating that the food does not contain genetically modified crops or has not been produced using GMOs), it may be used, in accordance with EU law, provided that the general rules on food labeling are respected and that the information provided to consumers is not misleading. Some Member States have introduced GMO-free labeling schemes for their food products. In our country, the use of the “GMO-free” label on foods that do not contain genetically modified organisms or have not been produced using GMOs is considered misleading advertising and is not allowed.