(CN) – Europe’s highest court sided with opponents of genetic engineering in a case over honey, but the practical effects of this ruling remain murky.
Even though pollen from genetically modified flowers no longer counts as a genetically modified organism, honey containing such pollen requires special permission to be marketed, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled Tuesday.
The ruling is a win for beekeepers who challenged the German state of Bavaria on cultivation of research plots of MON 810 maize, a type of genetically modified corn.
Agricultural transnational Monsanto received special permission to introduce the crop and related products onto European markets in 1998.
The corn’s genes include inserted DNA from a bacterium that poisons a type of butterfly known to plague the corn as a parasite.
EU directives on genetically modified organisms from 2001 and 2003 require growers of such crops to obtain authorization before distributing products derived from them on the market.
The Bavarian beekeepers were led by apiculturist Karl Heinz Bablok, who sold and consumed honey from bees he kept adjacent to the experimental corn plots.
Bablok apparently stopped marketing pollen supplements after genetic testing showed the presence of contaminated pollen from the GMO maize grown just 550 yards away.
Since it’s inert, such pollen can no longer be considered genetically modified, the Bavarian court opined.
Since pollen is an “ingredient” in honey, however, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice said such honey constitutes a foodstuff derived from GMOs and is thus subject to regulation under the directives
According to some figures, up to a third of all honey in the EU contains at least 1 percent GMO pollen, the minimum amount to fall under regulation.
Since this honey would likely contain pollen from already approved GMO soy or rapeseed flowers, it would theoretically only need labeling under the rules to legally enter the market.
Imported honey, most of which comes from the Americas, would face a bit more difficulty since GMO cultivation there is much more widespread and not necessarily regulated within the EU legal framework.
The question remains whether European consumers, traditionally wary of GMOs, would change their consumption habits based on new labeling.
The ruling could also make GMO cultivation in Europe more difficult, since such fields must be located about 3 miles from beehives to prevent contamination.
European beekeepers could have the option to sue for compensation if they discover undesired GMO pollen in their honey.