Czech and German Non-GMO Standards Mutually Recognized

Interview with Carla Cizova, Executive Director of the Czech Commodities and Feed Association SKK

What is SKK’s Non-GMO standard about?

In many European countries, food processors and distributors, especially in the dairy industry, require proof that products supplied do not to contain and were not made from GMO components and ingredients. In accordance with EU and Czech legislation SKK created its Non-GMO standard and a corresponding label in 2017.

The Non-GMO standard specifies how to exclude GMOs at any production stage and through the entire supply chain. SKK’s Non-GMO standard is a national Czech standard, but compatible with other European Non-GMO standards. It can be used on a voluntary basis. The Czech Ministry of Agriculture has supported it from the very beginning, and it has received EU notification in 2017.

Our Non-GMO standard specifies how to verify that no GMOs have been used in cultivation of agricultural commodities and in livestock feeding. It ensures that the contamination risk of raw materials and other products is minimized. It guarantees that inspection and certification have to be carried out throughout the entire value chain, from seed production to the cultivation of grains, oilseed crops and other raw materials to the production of compound feed, to transport, to processing of raw materials for food and processing of individual food products. Of course, the requirements of the standard also apply to traders and carriers who subsequently handle raw materials and products. Certification according to the Non-GMO standard is supervised by SKK with Integrity Audits.

What is the market situation for GMO and Non-GMO products in the Czech Republic, especially in feed production?

Non-GMO feed is currently required by most Czech dairy farms, regardless of whether they are owned by a Czech or a foreign company. Demand for Non-GMO milk comes primarily from retail chains. Retailers communicate to their customers that dairy products stem from farms that do not use genetically modified feed. As a result, dairy farms have to follow SKK’s Non-GMO standard, for more than 4 years now.

Our association has been monitoring this area carefully for a long time, because Non-GMO requirements have the greatest impact on suppliers and feed producers who are at the beginning of the entire supply chain. That is why members of our association and certification companies have been involved creating a Czech Non-GMO standard.

What will be the specific, practical impact of the mutual recognition of SKK’s Czech and VLOG’s German standard on the Czech business environment?

We are speaking of recognized, equivalent standards. If a company or product are certified according to one of the standards, no additional VLOG/SKK certification is required in order to benefit from one of the certifications. Companies certified according to SKK’s standard can apply to VLOG for the use of the “Ohne GenTechnik” label for food and the “VLOG geprüft” (verified by VLOG) seal for feed. Conversely, German entrepreneurs can apply to SKK for the use of the Czech seal without complications. We expect support of Non-GMO production in the Czech Republic and therefore further improved availability of food and suitable Non-GMO feed throughout Europe.

Could you describe the process of the mutual standard recognition?  

In January 2020 I visited the German VLOG office to meet VLOG’s managing director Alexander Hissting and a member of his expert team. The mutual recognition process was initiated afterwards and completed in December 2020. This process took up every business day of the year 2020, without exaggeration. Czech and German expert teams assessed every single sentence, or word, to be more exact, of the extensive VLOG Non-GMO documentation system and its numerous annexes in order to determine whether the SKK standard was compatible with the German standard. If this was not the case, the expert teams negotiated at length to reach a consensus or compromise. One reason why the process was so challenging and long was the precise, rigorous assessment of the standard documentation, the other reason was the fact that negotiations were conducted in German and English with translations of the necessary parts of the documentation. Finally, in December 2020, the expert teams agreed that the standards were fine-tuned enough to be considered equivalent. The contract itself was signed on January 2021; it is very balanced, not favoring either party over the other. The entire business relationship with German VLOG was and is very fair, open and based on partnership. During the whole year of everyday communication, our associations have become two partner organizations with direct communication, with the same goal and with an interest in long-term cooperation.

What are the main differences between the original SKK standard and the new one harmonized with VLOG?

SKK’s original Non-GMO standard was developed on the basis of other similar available standards, and therefore also with knowledge of the VLOG standard. The new version of the SKK standard added and specified some criteria and requirements applied by the VLOG standard: increased milk supplier sampling in the certification of feedstock entering dairy farms, a strict GMO analysis of high-risk feedstock and PCR tests for GMOs in compound feed, only to be performed in accredited laboratories approved by VLOG.

How do Czech companies see the new standard?

The first company certified according to the new standard is Zemědělské zásobování a nákup Strakonice a.s. The Chief Sales Officer, Ing. Jan Karvan, shared the experience of his company with us:  "The difficulty of the audit according to the new standard is comparable with the original one. Certain conditions are stricter, more analyses need to be performed and control mechanisms need to be in place, but the difference compared to the previous standard is not that great. One thing that is new is the analysis of all incoming high-risk raw materials, but quick tests (test strips) can be used, which is acceptable both in terms of time and cost. We would like to thank the team who developed the standard and negotiated the terms of recognition with VLOG for their great work. The standard does not contain excessive requirements, and its recognition by VLOG is a relief for most of us milk producers. If you are considering certification according to the new standard and you have already introduced a system according to the original standard, then we believe you have nothing to worry about. Out of all the ISO, GMP+ and other certifications, Non-GMO certification is one of the ‘less demanding’ ones.”