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[SANET-MG] codex and GM food
The argument that there is no evidence of harm from GM crops is based, I
believe, on two principles. The first is that studies showing harm to
test animals are ignored. The second great principle is that so long as
GM foods are not labeled there is no way to trace the harm that they do.
These two great principles have gone a long way towards replacing
science with public relations.
Codex and the GM trade stalemate
By Lorraine Heller
4/25/2007- International regulations on genetically modified foods and
the trade barriers resulting from these will again be in the spot light
next week, as the 35th meeting of the Codex Committee on Food Labeling
kicks off in Ottawa, Canada.
The meeting, taking place from April 30 to May 4, forms part of an
ongoing program to create international food safety standards under the
Codex Alimentarius, a body set up by the Food and Agricultural
Organization and the World Health Organization.
Differences in international regulations of genetically modified (GM)
foods have long been the cause of strong disagreements between the
United States and the European Union. The US claims the EU's more
stringent labeling requirements violate free trade agreements, but EU
member states maintain that informed consumer choice should constitute
part of free trade.
Food products sold in the US currently do not need to label the presence
of GM ingredients, unless the product has been 'substantially changed'
from the original due to the presence of these components.
This product-based labeling system varies significantly from the
European process-based labeling system.
In Europe, all GM ingredients must be labeled if these constitute a
certain percentage of the finished item. In addition, fewer varieties
of GM crops have been approved in Europe, meaning that foods containing
any of these are not permitted on the market, with or without labeling.
These more stringent regulations are largely due to lower levels of
confidence in genetic modification on the other side of the Atlantic.
The fact is that consumers within the EU are incredibly wary of GM, and
that therefore the labeling of products is an important issue for both
consumes and food makers. European GM food laws require that foods
derived from GM sources should be labeled to say 'this product contains
genetically modified organisms' or 'produced from genetically modified soy'.
In 2003, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union
adopted new regulations governing the approval, marketing, labeling,
traceability and importation of food produced using biotechnology.
However, the US view is that Europe's imposed labeling of GMOs at all
stages of marketing is unnecessary as there is no scientific evidence
suggesting a negative health impact of consuming such foods.
The result: a trade stalemate, with little change expected in the near
According to Mark Mansour of Foley & Lardner LLP, many US companies are
forced to resort to costly processes, such as Identity Preservation
(IP), in order to avoid GM labeling.
IP guarantees non-GM contaminated supply of crops, but as well as being
an expensive process to implement, crops grown under this method are in
relatively limited supply, and are largely found in Europe. This means
that food companies often find themselves sourcing raw materials in
Europe in order to export the goods back there. And this puts them at a
trade disadvantage, Mansour told FoodNavigator-USA.com. Other companies
simply decide not to sell in Europe, he said.
Delegates at next week's Codex labeling meeting will discuss a draft
amendment to the General Standards for Labeling of Prepackaged Foods
with respect to definitions for foods obtained through genetic
modification or genetic engineering. This draft is presently at step seven.
At step four and also up for debate are the Proposed Guidelines for the
Labeling for Foods and Food Ingredients Obtained through Certain
Techniques of Genetic Modification/Genetic Engineering: Labeling Provisions.
At the IFT conference last July, Peggy Rochette, director of
international policy at the Food Products Association (FPA) told
delegates that global agreement was a long way off.
"Commodity divisions have experienced in practical terms what this
divergence in labeling schemes means," she said.
"US soybean exports to the EU for example have decreased from $2.5bn in
1996 to $874m in 2004. However, processed food exports continue to grow.
Look closely however, and you'll see divergences. Exports of snacks and
cereals - those most likely to contain GM - are down 24 per cent in the
This has all led to a great deal of conflict. The USDA has said that the
"failure of other countries to develop consistent and science-based
regulatory processes governing biotechnology has the potential to
With the general European hostility towards GM technology, a global
consensus on this issue would seem impossible. However, four global
forums for discussion are currently being used, and could represent an
avenue to some form of harmonization in the future: The Cartagena
Portocol, Codex, the International Standards Organization (ISO) and the
World Trade Organization (WTO).
A recent USDA report set out three potential scenarios for GM food in
the year 2015.
The rosy view is that biotechnology is embraced globally, along the
lines of the US's science-based approach. A second view, called
'continental islands', sees GM food products being traded universally
within continents, but without any real global harmonization.
The third view is that 'biotech goes niche'. In other words, the
barriers that currently inhibit the global trade of GM food products, be
they regulatory or consumer-based, are never overcome.
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