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
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
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 derivativesdespite 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
3. DETAILED COMMENT
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
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
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
(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 unclearcertainly 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
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
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
4 June 1998