BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe's food and drink industry has urged the EU to allow traces of unapproved genetically modified (GM) material in food imports, after similar rules for animal feed imports were approved last month.
The global nature of grain supply chains makes it increasingly difficult and costly for exporters to guarantee that small amounts of GM crops that are not yet approved in Europe don't find their way into cargoes.
The European Union voted in June to allow up to 0.1 percent of unapproved GM in feed imports, following supply disruptions in 2009 when U.S. soy shipments were blocked after tiny amounts of unauthorized GM were found in some cargoes.
"While this regulation represents a first step in an obvious direction, a necessary second step is that the scope of the legislation needs to be extended to include food as a matter of urgency," EU industry association FoodDrinkEurope said in a statement.
"Like feed producers, food producers are dependent on raw material imports and are therefore confronted with very comparable challenges to feed producers," said the association, which represents Europe's 1 trillion euro ($1.4 billion) a year food and drink sector.
The European Commission said on Friday it would assess the effectiveness of the new regulations for feed imports before making any similar proposal for food.
"Food will be addressed in the future, but we can't give any specific date at this stage," EU health and consumer affairs spokesman Frederic Vincent said.
When the rules for feed imports were proposed, a majority of EU governments said they would welcome similar proposals for food.
Some member states -- as well as major grain exporters to Europe such as the United States, Brazil and Argentina -- say different EU rules for food and feed are unworkable because global grain supply chains cannot be separated into one or the other.
The problem of unapproved GM material in imports to Europe has arisen because of delays in the EU's authorization process for GMOs, which currently takes up to two years longer than in exporting countries.
This is the first time that Europe's food industry as a whole has called for a tolerance threshold for unapproved GM material in imports destined for human consumption.
In a 2010 Commission survey, 57 percent of EU respondents said they were opposed to GM food.
(Reporting by Charlie Dunmore, editing by Anthony Barker)