Julie Girling, rapporteur. −
Madam President, in September 2009, following the discovery of pollen from GM maize in honey, the European Court of Justice ruled that pollen is an ingredient of honey. With all due respect to the Court, they are wrong: pollen is not an ingredient, and any beekeeper will tell you so. Pollen is present in honey due to bees’ activity and is not deliberately added by the beekeeper. It is technically impossible to produce honey free from pollen. In fact it is not permitted for beekeepers to add anything.
Honey is considered by producers and consumers alike to be the ultimate natural product, made entirely by bees and free from human interference. This includes the various constituents particular to honey, such as pollen. To define pollen as an ingredient would cause reputational damage to honey by implying that its production is not a wholly natural process. This is a dangerous road to start on.
Products with ingredients need to have them listed on a label. If pollen were to be defined as an ingredient, honey would need to display a list of ingredients. To have a list reading ‘Ingredients: honey, pollen’ would obviously not be providing any additional information to the consumer and would only create an unnecessary labelling burden.
For the reasons I have mentioned, the Commission felt it necessary to come forward with a proposal clarifying the definition of pollen as a ‘constituent’. I have supported this position from the beginning, as have most of the Member State governments. I do not do this blindly. Of course, as an active MEP I have not let this proposal go unchallenged. It is Parliament’s job to investigate all aspects and come up with alternatives, but in this case I have concluded that there is only one answer: pollen is not an ‘ingredient’ of honey.
Of course, the ingredient/constituent argument has arisen due to the labelling implications of each option. If pollen continues to be considered a ‘constituent’, any GM pollen present would not need to be labelled. This is because, according to the GM regulation, only GM content above 0.9 % needs to be labelled. Since pollen only forms around 0.5 % of any batch of honey, it would never exceed the labelling threshold.
If pollen is to be considered an ‘ingredient’, then the 0.9 % threshold applies to the total pollen rather than the total honey. Pollen would therefore need to be tested for GM content and, where it exceeds 0.9 %, it would need to be labelled.
There are some in this Chamber who are actively promoting this latter option even though it is based on a false premise, because it would lead to some honey being labelled as food produced from GMOs. By doing this, I think they believe they will score a small victory in the fight against GMOs, but they would in the process be using honey producers as collateral damage. They will argue that they are doing this in the interest of consumers and to increase transparency about the GM content of food. If they succeed, I think they will be doing the exact opposite.
Lying to consumers by stating that pollen is an ingredient is not a good start. If GM pollen is labelled, consumers will be receiving inconsistent information about GM content when compared with other foods. Either the 0.9 % labelling threshold applies to all food or to none. To make an exception of honey by requiring GM content below the threshold to be labelled will only serve to confuse consumers about labelling laws.
There has been a lot of scaremongering surrounding this proposal, much of it designed to create uncertainty in the sector. If the Commission proposal is not adopted, there will be negative consequences for the sector, as all honey producers will be required to test their honey to check the GM content, and some will be required to label if GM pollen is found to be present.
Small producers will be hit hardest by the testing requirements. Parliament’s own policy department found that the cost of each test would be EUR 94 per batch. This may not seem much if you are making a large batch, but for many small producers the cost could be very crippling.
To conclude, I ask you this: do we really want to base legislation on a false premise and then subsequently force small-scale beekeepers out of business? Or do we want to put an end to years of legal uncertainty in the sector and finally allow our beekeepers to get back to what they do best: providing us with quality European honey?