France is facing a new alimentary scandal after a genetically modified lamb finished in the food supply chain. The information was released yesterday by the French Newspaper “Le Parisien”.
In the framework of a medical research program carried out by the Institut National de Recherche Agronomique (INRA) a ewe was genetically modified with the « green fluorescent protein » of jellyfish, which gave her a transparent and fluorescent skin colour. This ewe gave birth to a lamb carrying the same modified genes which was later sent to a slaughterhouse and whose meat was then sold to individuals in the Paris region.
The result of internal dysfunctions
The decision of sending the lamb to slaughterhouse was the result of internal dysfunctions and especially the disagreement between employees, said the INRA. The lamb was put by one of them within a “regular” sheep livestock that was supposed to be sent to the slaughterhouse. Whether this was intentional or not remains unknown. His superior, who had signed the authorisation of deliverance to the slaughterhouse, after asking where was the lamb in question and realising what he had authorized, decided to remain silent and not to tell his hierarchy. In the end, the first employees decided to talk.
The investigation of the French Ministry of Agriculture and the ANSES report
An investigation, required by the French ministry of agriculture, was carried out. Several failures in the INRA units were found out (e.g. lack of identification of GMO lambs, law requirements infringements). A report has to me made by the 30th of June and the INRA promised to act on those kinds of misbehaviours.
The French National Agency for sanitary security of food supply, environment and work (ANSES) was consulted by several General Directorates (health, food and agriculture) in early June, in order to report on what could be the consequences of this case upon human health. Even if the report found out that such a risk was nearly non-existing, it shows that the responsible authorities were aware of the matter but didn't warn the public before “Le Parisien” yesterday did it.
According to “Le Parisien”, there is no way to discover to whom the GMO meat was sold since in case of sale to individuals there is no requirement for slaughterhouses to set up precise traceability.
The presence of genetically modified meat in the food supply chain: a failure that shouldn't happen
The GMO release into our food supply system and more generally into the environment falls under the Directive 2001/18/CE. In any case, GMO producers shall have an authorisation before release which is subject to a risk assessment. For the moment no GMO animals have been authorised, but two EFSA's guides of assessment have been already published in anticipation (respectively on the environmental risk and on the risk linked to the use of it in human and animals food).
In this case the release was subsequent to a misbehaviour or mistake and the GMO meat of the lamb was never intended for human consumption. It is thus absolutely intolerable that a GMO finishes in our plate without going through the required procedures. A legal proceeding has been opened and hopefully this infringement, even possibly unintentional, will be punished in order to preserve the consumer's trust.
The traceability of meat: a recurring EU issue still unsolved
After the mad cow disease in 2000 and the so-called “Horsegate” scandal in 2013, the food safety issue is back on the table.
Since the Regulation n° 1760/2000, bovine meat has to be labelled. With the Regulation n°1169/2011 of the Parliament and Council of the EU, this obligation has been extended to sheep, goat, pork and poultry fresh, chilled or frozen meat. These rules are only applying since the 1st April 2015. The labelling must contain the rearing and slaughtering countries as well as the birth and countries of processing for bovine meat.
However this obligation doesn't concern “processed meat”, i.e. neither meat as component or ingredient of a ready-meal or dishes, nor deli meats are concerned, but only raw meat. A resolution was adopted by the EU Parliament last February, asking the EU Commission to make a proposal on that matter. The Council also discussed the opportunity of such a labelling in June. The opinions were diverse, but France and Italy for instance were very in favour of such an obligation. In the same spirit of improving the meat traceability, France adopted similar measures with the “Hamon” Law of the 17th March 2014, not applied yet. The BEUC, a European Organisation gathering more than 40 consumers organisations, is also supporting the need of a reform. Nevertheless an EU Commission proposal on such a matter is not on the agenda yet.
On the same topic, the organic label is being reviewed this year. A General Approach of the Council of the EU on the EU Commission proposal has even been found on the 17th of June. Nevertheless one point of the General Approach has been very much criticized by some member States. Indeed forbidden substances (e.g. GMO) traces are allowed under certain circumstances.
As response to an increasing concern of the public toward what we eat, a transparent, comprehensive and adequate mandatory labelling should be provided for as well as a better control of the compliance with the existing rules, so that we never find out “jellyfish-lamb” in our plates without knowing it !
Article of Le Parisien (in French): http://www.leparisien.fr/faits-divers/la-folle-histoire-du-mouton-ogm-23-06-2015-4885599.php#xtor=AD-1481423552
Press release of the French National Agency for sanitary security of food supply, environment and work: https://www.anses.fr/fr/system/files/BIOT2015SA0136.pdf