Since the early 1990s an extensive legal framework on genetically modified organisms (i. e. organisms whose genetic material has been altered by the introduction of a modified gene or a gene from variety of species, hereinafter “GMO”) has been established by the European Union.
The labeling ("contains GMOs") is mandatory in all EU Member States in accordance with EU Regulations No. 1829/2003 and 1830/2003. In the production chain of animal products, however, this mandatory labeling ends at the level of the animal feed. Dairy products, meat, eggs, etc. are exempt from GMO labeling according to the EU-regulation. Since 2015 the European Union’s GMO legal framework allows the member states to restrict or prohibit cultivation of authorised GMOs (Directive 2015/412/EU).
Hungary was one of the first European Union nations to ban genetically modified crops (the principle that the Hungarian agriculture must be free from genetically modified organisms is laid down in Article XX of the Fundamental Law of Hungary).
In 2015 the Ministry of Agriculture started working on a new labeling system to identify products such as meat, fish, eggs, milk and honey that has been certified as GMO- free, meaning the livestock has been fed GMO-free feed.
After the Hungarian Government had answered certain objections of the European Commission and Spain, the way was opened for the Ministry of Agriculture to make the national legislative proposal about the GMO-free labeling.
The next step in the „decidedly pro GMO-free” politics in Hungary is the decree on the GMO- free labeling which came into force on 20 September 2016.
The decree’s scope encompasses the conditions for both producing and distributing of GMO-free food and feed. The decree provides possibility for special labeling GMO-free food and feed and the products which are made of these, as well as meat, fish, eggs and milk from livestock fed on certified GMO-free animal feed, and GMO- free honey.
The decree stresses out that the application of the GMO-free labeling is on a voluntary basis. However, only the wording indicated in the decree (“from GMO- free production”, “ the meat/ milk/ egg is from an animal which was fed with GMO- free feed”, “the fish was fed GMO- free feed”) are permitted and no alternative wording is admissible for the producers/retailers to indicate freedom from GMOs of their products.
In short, for a food product to be labeled „GMO-free” it must meet the criteria, that it should contain no genetically modified organisms or parts thereof and no GMO material in animal feed, with strict time limits to be observed if animals have at some point been reared on feed containing GMOs and furthermore the producer must verify that the product doesn’t contain genetically modified crops. When buying food that carries the above mentioned label consumers will be assured that these criteria are met. It is important to see that the term “free” does not mean “zero percent”. The law permits namely when it comes to food or feed traces of up to 0.1 percent GMO content, provided that it is adventitious or technically unavoidable and that the GMO has obtained marketing approval in the EU.
It is important that the GMO- free labeling must not be used for giving the impression to costumers that the product – only because it doesn’t contain GMOs - has special features and its effect on environment and health is better than the similar products which are not labelled with “from GMO- free production”.
Producers and traders of food labeled as being from GMO- free production are obliged to ensure the traceability of the products and the used raw materials. Documents proving the freedom from GMO have to be stored for five years.
Since packaging material and labels which do not meet the criteria of the decree may only be used until 1 January 2017, and products carrying such labeling can only be placed on the market until their expiry date, producers should accommodate as soon as possible to the provisions of the decree. Retailers should make sure that the products sold to end consumers meet these provisions.