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3-Food: GM food labelling under Codex Alimentarius suspended

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TITLE:  GMO food labelling at least a year out
SOURCE: BRIDGES Weekly Trade News Digest - Vol. 3, Number 18
DATE:   May 10, 1999

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Divisions over GMOs were again emphasised last month when the
Codex Food Labelling Committee, part of the UN Codex Alimentarius
Commission that sets global food standards last month failed to
reach agreement on labelling rules for food containing
genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The 53 countries attending
the 27-30 April meeting in Ottawa could only agree to create a
new working group to develop a proposal for consideration at the
committee's next annual meeting in the spring of 2000. Last
months talks faltered amid disagreement between the EU and the
U.S. over a draft proposal for mandatory labelling of all
processed food products containing GMOs. This marks the second
year in a row that the Codex Food Labelling Comimittee failed to
an reach agreement and puts a global GMO labelling agreement out
by at least a year.

Codex was established by the Food and Agriculture Organisation
and the World Health Organisation in 1962 to recommend minimum
standards on food safety that all countries should follow. WTO
Members cite Codex standards in food-related agreements such as
the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. While Codex
rules are usually ignored in the mainstream press, the Codex Food
Labelling Committee has received a good deal of attention because
labelling figures prominently in on-going trade disputes between
the EU and U.S., in particular on the EU ban on hormone treated
beef imports and over EU restrictions on GMO maize and soyabean

The EU favours mandatory labelling of processed foodstuffs
containing GMOs. EU consumers favour GMO labelling as tool for
making an informed choice about food purchases with respect to
food safety and purity preferences. U.S. officials argue that the
EU approach is impractical and moreover unwarranted - saying that
GMO products are substantially the same as non-GMO products with
respect to nutritional value and contain neither toxic nor
allergenic elements.

Meanwhile, those in favour of GMO-labelling say the consumers
want the right to make an informed choice about the food they
eat. "People in different parts of the world voice concerns about
this on environmental, religious and ethical grounds, so labels
have to be provided that allow people to make appropriate
choices,'' a spokesman for Consumers International, which
represents 246 consumer organisations from 110 countries, warned
representatives to the Codex Commission in Ottawa.

"EU-U.S. dispute delays Codex labelling rule for a year, could
spark new
trade battles,"
"De nouvelles regles pour le commerce,"
  AGRA Presse Hebdo, 3 May 1999;
"Sticky labels,"
  THE ECONOMIST, 1 May 1999;
"Giant food companies control standards: Critics,"
  TORONTO STAR, 28 April 1999;
"UN agency meets to decide on rules for labelling produce,"
  THE OTTTAWA CITIZEN, 28 April 1999


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