September saw the EU Court of Justice, the highest court in the bloc, ruling that honey containing traces of pollen from genetically modified (GM) plants must receive prior authorisation before it can be sold as food in the EU.
Prior to the Court's decision, foodstuffs containing honey were not required to declare the presence of pollen on their labels.
The verdict could have a detrimental impact on European imports of honey from countries such as Argentina where GM crops are widely grown.
A huge percentage of honey used in the Europe food sector, whether sold directly or used in products such as breakfast cereals or bars, is sourced from outside the bloc on price grounds.
Commission weighs up implications
The Commission says it is currently weighing up the implications of the EU Court of Justice's decision, with member states set to address the issue at a two-day meeting on 24 to 25 October. Its Standing Committee on Food and Animal Health (SCOFAH) met on the GM honey ruling last month but it said it needed more time to determine the wider impact of the judgement for industry.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the UK Food Safety Agency (FSA) told FoodNavigator.com that the potential cost impact for manufacturers - both honey makers and brand owners that use honey as an ingredient - is considerable, given that it may mean food manufacturers have to start testing honey for GM pollen traces and may also have to upgrade their labelling.
The FSA spokesperson said the agency continues to seek clarity on the ruling from the Commission to ensure UK industry remains compliant with regulation. But "a lot more discussion needs to take place in Brussels,” he stressed.
The case was filed by German beekeepers from Bavaria, who in 2005 identified that their honey contained traces of pollen from Monsanto's insect-resistant GM MON 810 maize plants, which were being grown near their hives for research purposes.
According to the beekeepers, the presence of pollen from GM plants in their honey made the product unfit for sale and consumption.
The District Court of Bavaria sought clarification at the EU Court of Justice, who declared that products including honey containing such pollen constitute foodstuffs that contain ingredients produced from GMOs.
"The pollen in question consequently comes within the scope of the EU regulation and must be subject to the authorisation scheme provided thereunder before being placed on the market," said the Court.
Supply chain scrutiny
Stuart Shotton, director of legal consultants, Foodchain, is urging the EU food industry to exercise due diligence and instigate rigorous scrutiny of their supply chains now, ahead of any measures from Brussels, to determine if their honey imports contain pollen from non EU approved GM plants.
And he reports that Genetic ID, Foodchain’s sister company, has already seen increased levels of honey testing for GM in Germany where the issue first gained attention.