New EU rules on the labelling and traceability of genetically modified organisms, approved yesterday by the European Parliament, have received heavy criticism from Argentina and the US.

The new legislation requires products containing more than 0.9% GM material to be labelled as such, while all GMOs will be carefully traced "from farm to fork". The new rules are expected to pave the way for a lifting of the EU's unofficial moratorium on GMOs.

US farm officials were less than pleased, however, with the new rules: "We think their remedy for the problem is just as bad if not worse than the problem itself," Ron Gaskill, international trade policy specialist with the American Farm Bureau, was quoted by the Washington Times as saying.

"The rules themselves on labelling and traceability are both commercially impossible and not scientifically justified," he added.

Meanwhile, farm officials in Argentina, one of the world's main grain exporters, said the new rules were not justified.

"It is inconsistent from a technical point of view, unjustified and heaps huge damage on Argentina in terms of commerce and productivity," Gustavo Idigoras, national director of food markets at the Argentine Agricultural Department, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

"Argentina today cannot set up a (crop) segregation system at a nationwide level. The costs involved are several hundred million dollars," he added.

European officials welcomed the decision. EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said: "By ensuring that GMOs can be traced at all stages in the production and marketing chain, we provide a robust safeguard system and the foundation for a comprehensive labelling system. In this way, we address the most critical concerns of the public regarding the environmental and health effects of GMOs and enable consumers to chose."

EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne said: "Consumers will also have a clear choice of products to buy as GM food will now be clearly labelled. For the first time farmers will see labels on GM-feed. Europe will now have a comprehensive and transparent system of authorisation and labelling that can only enhance business and consumer confidence."