Germany has had a labelling system for non-GM foods - including foods derived from animals raised without GM feed - since the 1990s. In practice, however, this label has not been taken up by the industry because the regulations are extremely tight, and extensive documentation is required to substantiate the non-GM claim.
A spokesperson for the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV) told FoodNavigator.com that the political agreement was reached on to allow the use of GM vitamins, additives and processing aids where there is no non-GM alternative available, and still allow the end food product to be labelled as non-GM.
This includes the use of animal-derived material from animals raised on feed containing the likes of vitamin B21 and lyside, which are only made by GM processes.
The intention, said the spokesperson, is to encourage the food industry to start using the non-GM labels.
However Marcus Girnau, managing director of German food industry federation, BLL, told FoodNavigator.com that he is opposed to the change since it would be misleading to consumers.
"If you say a product is without GM explicitly then it should have no GM," he said. "Otherwise we should change the claim, to say without GM plants, for example."
"We think it is misleading to the consumer, who will think there is no intentional touch of GM in the product."
BLL will be communicating its perspective to its members, but since this is a legal act it will be down to each company to chose their course of action.
However Girnau said he believes the credibility of a product will be reduced if it uses the non-GM label while containing GM material.
The BMELV spokesperson said that Sunday's decision was predicated on a compromise on the European organic farming legislation at EU level that was reached in June 2007, just at the end of German's EU presidency.
This legislation, which will come into force across the bloc in January 2009, opened the way for the use of GM-produced additives for which there is no alternative non-GM method in organic farming.
The German coalition government therefore extended the spirit of this legislation from organic to conventional farming methods.
The coalition agreement must still be notified to the European Commission and have a hearing in the German parliament, at which BLL will present its point of view.
However since the compromise looks to have the agreement of the main political parties of the coalition, Girnau believes it is likely to receive the green light.