Select Committee on European Communities Second Report - Written Evidence

Memorandum by Nestlé UK Ltd


  Nestlé UK is the British operating business of Nestlé SA, the world's largest food company. In the UK, we manufacture and distribute, via retail and catering outlets, import and export products in virtually every sector of the food and drink industry. Our brands include such household names as Nescafé, Rowntree, Crosse & Blackwell, Buitoni, Findus, Lyons Maid, SunPat, Gales, Perrier and many others; we also supply a range of major retailer private label products. In the UK, we employ some 15,000 people, in over 20 factory and head office establishments, with an annual turnover of £1.7 billion. World wide, Nestlé employs approximately 220,000 people, operates some 500 factories and has an annual turnover of approximately 70 billion Swiss Francs.

  Our own internal structure and the increasingly global nature of world food trade dictate that we source our raw materials and finished products on a truly international basis. Our European factories operate, similarly, on an international basis and our production within the UK may equally be destined for European consumption as for the domestic market. Likewise, products sold in the UK may well have been produced elsewhere within Europe.

  Increasingly, therefore, we perceive Europe as a single trading entity and, in the area of regulation in particular, the need for a single framework of equitable, enforceable rules is paramount.

  We therefore welcomes the opportunity to contribute our comments to this inquiry.


  2.1 Nestlé is committed to the responsible use of foods and food ingredients derived from genetic modification. it is also fully committed to openness and transparency in this use and in dialogue with other parties.

  2.2 Current regulations impose significant restrictions on research, particularly when viewed on a global basis.

  2.3 The UK model (ACRE/ACNFP) for controlling release into the environment has worked well and should be used as the basis for international harmonisation in order to remove current confusion and facilitate global trade.

  2.4 The current EU framework for labelling GMOs and their derivatives—despite recent developments-remains ambiguous and incapable of uniform, meaningful application. Further consolidation of existing requirements is now urgently required, whereby principles applicable to current and future approval will be established.

  2.5 Codex Alimentarius should be the focus for internationally agreed safety and labelling procedures/mechanisms and requirements.


3.1 Nestlé Position on Genetic Modification

  New and creative solutions will be required to feed an ever-growing world population with affordable and wholesome foods in an environmentally sustainable way. As one of the world's major users of agricultural produce, Nestlé has been a pioneer in encouraging more efficient and sustainable farming methods, especially in the developing world, where we operate more than 100 factories.

  We fully recognise that biotechnology, including genetic modification will be one of the principal tools available to meet these challenges. Traditional biotechnology such as plant and animal breeding has a long history and the use of fermentation to produce preserved products such as cheese, pickles, bread, beer, salami, etc., is well established. Genetic modification has evolved from these traditional processes and allows improvements to be made rapidly, precisely and safely.

  Although Nestlé does not directly produce its own raw materials, we are firmly convinced that the responsible control and use of this technology guarantees safe products which will bring substantial benefits to farmers, industry and consumers alike. Nestlé has therefore decided that it will use genetically modified crops and their derivatives, taking fully into consideration local legislation, consumer demand and concerns and the global supply situation.

  As a responsible and responsive company, Nestlé encourages transparency and welcomes open dialogue with consumers. We are actively co-operating with suppliers, other food manufacturers, retailers, authorities and consumers in activities aimed at informing the public about developments arising from genetic modification.

  Futhermore, although we see no safety or scientific justification for specific labelling we have recognised the legitimate consumer interest for this information and have commenced a programme (in addition to any legal requirements) to indicate the use of ingredients produced with the aid of genetic modification on the label wherever practicable.

  Our business is based on offering products tailored to meet the diverse needs and preferences of consumers in all parts of the world. Whatever the technology or raw material, Nestlé only uses ingredients which meet the highest international standards and which comply with all legal requirements. It is therefore essential that these standards and legal requirements are maintained by the authorities and perceived by consumers to be adequate, increasingly on a global rather than a national basis.

3.2 The Appropriateness and Efficacy of Current Regulation

(a) Research

  Nestlé UK is not directly involved in research on genetic modification. However, Nestlé operates a number of research establishments around the world and, in particular, has an establishment dedicated to plant breeding in France. Gene technology is one of the tools available to this team.

  We believe that the application of Directive 90/219 on the contained use of genetically modified organisms has imposed undue restrictions on plant breeding at the research level. We would therefore welcome a review of this legislation, recognising at the present time that such a review could well introduce political, in addition to scientific, considerations.

  As major users of agricultural raw materials, we are adamant that any agricultural research base within Europe must be at the forefront of science and technology, whilst retaining the principles of safety and good environmental practice as fundamental criteria.

(b) Release into the Environment

  Nestlé UK follows closely the work and reports of the UK Advisory Committee on Releases into the Environment (ACRE); we are impressed by the professionalism of the committee and the presentation and information contained in its reports.

  The previous voluntary scheme within the UK has formed the basis of a European system for approval of release of GMOs. However there have recently developed obvious and confusing overlaps between Directive 90/220, the Novel Foods Regulation 258/97 and more recently Regulation 1813/97. The very recently agreed regulation referring specifically to Monsanto Soya and Novartis Maize, whilst clarifying to a certain extent provisions relating only to these two products does not apply to further products approved in the interim period.

  There is a very clear need for the requirements of the various regulations to be consolidated and harmonised. Furthermore, there is a clear and urgent need for European mechanisms to be speeded up in order that the present confusion in trade arising from varying numbers of products approved for use within the USA, Europe and other parts of the world be reduced to a minimum.

  This issue is severely compounded in the case of commodity crops such as maize, soya and rapeseed where there are already varieties approved in the United States and Canada, which are not fully approved within the European Union. As users of derivatives of these crops, the legal status of these derivatives remains unclear—certainly the labelling provisions (see later paragraph) are confused.

(c) Novel Foods and their labelling

  We do not believe that genetic modification in itself presents any new food safety risk or that foods and food ingredients produced with the aid of genetically modified organisms represent a special class of new foods. They should be subject to the same type of risk assessment as any other new food product and its intended use, whatever the method of production which has been used.

  We therefore believe that the scope of the Novel Food Regulation 258/97 is appropriate as a means of achieving a harmonised approach to the approval of all Novel Foods and as a basis for ensuring both consumer confidence and fair trade.

  However, the labelling requirements defined under Article 8 of this regulation were defined in extremely subjective terms and left open to potentially very wide interpretation. This interpretation is further confused by the reference in Article 5 to "substantially equivalent", whereas Article 8 refers to "no longer equivalent"; there is a difference of meaning between these phrases but the extent and significance of this difference is totally unclear.

  In order to clarify the status and labelling requirements of Monsanto Round Up Ready Soya and Novartis Bt-maize a further regulation has recently (26 May) been agreed.

  In our opinion, this latest regulation should now be consolidated with the requirements under Directive 90/220, Regulation 258/97, Regulation 1813/97 and the underlying principles converted into a single global regulation which can be, and will be, applicable to all future approvals of genetically modified crops and their derivatives. Several crops previously approved in the United States have recently been notified to the EU authorities and fall within a legal lacuna.

  We believe the aspect of "equivalence" to be fundamental to the whole question of labelling of Novel Foods. It is of some concern, therefore, that the EU Regulators appear to have applied a far stricter interpretation to this term than is generally recognised internationally.

  Notwithstanding the current regulatory requirements for labelling of Novel Foods and derivatives we remain concerned as to how these regulations will be enforced in practice.

  We have frequently stated that a general principle of labelling is that is must be accurate, truthful and meaningful; the legislation must be capable of uniform interpretation and it must be uniformly enforced. We do not believe that the current regulation will meet these criteria until further detailed requirements have been elucidated.

  In particular, as indicated in the Council Minutes, the question of thresholds and agreed methodology will be paramount.

  We would be pleased to have the opportunity to comment further to your committee on this, should the committee so wish.

3.3 Appropriateness and Efficacy of Current Regulation at the level of the UK and other Member States

  We have indicated previously our belief that genetic modification will, in the longer term, offer potentially enormous benefits at all stages throughout the food chain from primary agriculture through food processing to final product improvements, whether nutritional or quality related.

  However it is equally clear that in these early days of the technology, there are widely differing views as to the need for regulation and/or information about the products.

  It is inevitable that the early introduction of genetically modified crops will carry improved agronomic traits. The benefits to the consumer will not, therefore, be immediately apparent. Equally, the interpretation of "equivalence" differs widely between interested parties. This has led to the wide divergence of approach between the EU and the USA/Canada, with the consequential difficulties relating to the supply of commodity crops such as soya and maize.

  The EU cannot isolate itself from world commodity trade and the more the EU legislation diverges from that of the USA, Canada and the rest of the world, the greater will become the difficulties in sourcing commodity on a global basis.

  This will place additional financial burdens on our industry, and consequently consumers, without generating any tangible benefits.

  The initial clamouring for segregation of crops by some parties in Europe has not been modified (at least in words) to the "holy grail" of traceability. This is equally an overly bureaucratic requirement which, at the end of the day, does not meet consumer requirements but adds unnecessary costs to the food chain.

  In the longer term it will be essential for authorities, industry and all interested parties to re-establish credibility in approval mechanisms, the safety of the products and the integrity of the food chain. In this way specific labelling requirements may be progressively relaxed and greater emphasis and reliance placed upon alternative means of supplying relevant information to specific interested consumers via modern technology such as carelines, bar-codes, etc.

3.4 Appropriate Jurisdictions for Decisions on GMOs

  Many of the plants (and no doubt in the future animals) which have been or will be modified by gene technology form the basis of international trade, whether as commodities themselves or as components of final foodstuffs. It is therefore imperative that the regulation of these products, particularly from a safety viewpoint, should be controlled at as high an international level as possible. This might best be done via the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius mechanisms. If global agreement to the principles can be achieved, these should then form the basis of local regulation and thus equivalent treatment of genetically modified organisms around the world.

  We are confident that appropriate and adequate mechanisms for safety evaluation exist in the Western world but are not aware of similarly thorough controls existing in China and the Far East where considerable developments in this area are being made. We believe it would be an essential step towards ensuring consumer confidence in the technology, and hence its global acceptability, if the Oriental developments fell to be treated in an equivalent manner.

3.5 The Effect of Regulation on Competition

  Any legislative controls/regulations must be capable of uniform interpretation and be equitably enforced across their range of application. Providing this is done, there should be no undue imbalance of impact on any sector of the industry.

  Problems will arise at an international level when local legislation (albeit European based) is out of line with other geographic areas. This increasingly appears to be the case with regard to genetic modification.

  With increased internationalisation/globalisation of food manufacture and trading, it will be inevitable that business will move from one location to another if undue cost pressures are imposed upon it. This will apply both to research and development and food manufacture itself.

  Future regulation in this area must remain based on scientific considerations, albeit tempered by a political recognition of the sensitivity of this technology, and must be applicable to all relevant stages of the food chain, regardless of the size of the enterprise. Derogations from the legislation should be minimal if any and, if granted, must in no way prejudice the consumer confidence in the totality of the regulatory control over genetic modification.

4 June 1998

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999