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6-Regulation: Canada afraid to upset U.S. with GM labels

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TITLE:  Canada afraid to upset U.S. with GM labels
SOURCE: The Western Producer, Canada, by Barry Wilson
DATE:   Nov 21, 2002

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Canada afraid to upset U.S. with GM labels

American hostility to the idea, and Canada's fear of falling out of step 
with the United States, are why Canada should not adopt mandatory labelling 
of genetically modified food, says the federal government.

An Agriculture Canada statement on the labelling issue, tabled in 
Parliament in early November without public announcement, insisted that it 
is best left to the industry to decide whether to label for GM content.

The department conceded that markets, including the European Union and 
Japan, are moving toward demanding mandatory product labels, but Canada's 
biggest customer is not.

"The adoption of mandatory labelling system by Canada could have a 
significant impact on its trade relationship with its largest agricultural 
trading partner, the United States, which does not support mandatory 
labelling of biotechnology-derived foods," said the departmental response.

"Not only is the U.S. Canada's largest agri-food export market but Canadian 
agri-food industries and markets are highly integrated with those of the 

"A disjointed approach with the U.S. on voluntary versus mandatory 
labelling could place both trade and investment at risk."

For Council of Canadians biotech campaigner Nadège Adam, it was the most 
blunt government admission yet that the North American Free Trade Agreement 
has ended Canada's ability to develop independent domestic policy.

"It is an admission that because of free trade, we're not able to do a 
simple domestic policy decision like decide whether and how to label 
products," she said. "Yet all through the free trade debate, the government 
insisted we would always be able to make our own domestic policy. It's 

Some trade officials have warned that a mandatory labelling regime in 
Canada likely would be challenged by the U.S. as a new trade barrier that 
contravenes NAFTA rules.

In its report, the government said it continues to support voluntary 
labelling and will help fund research that continues to assess long-term 
health and environmental consequences of GM production.

But Adam argued that it will be impossible to do long-term studies on the 
health impacts of sustained GM food consumption because without labels, it 
is impossible to tell who is eating GM products and how much.

"How can you do post-market surveys if you can't identify the product in 
the market? It doesn't make sense."

Agriculture Canada said decisions about whether to label for customer 
demand, whether to segregate products and develop identity-preserved 
systems are marketing decisions and not health and nutrition decisions, 
since there is no evidence that GM products are different from conventional 

"A voluntary labelling system will allow commodity organizations and 
companies to do their own analyses, make their own business decisions and 
develop their own strategies based on their buyers', and ultimately 
consumers', requirements."

The department also said a mandatory system would add costs throughout the 
Canadian food system that would put business at a disadvantage when 
competing with products from countries that do not require labels.

"On the other hand, as food exporters Canadian agriculture and agri-food 
companies must be sensitive to a range of constantly changing customer 
preferences," it said. "There are buyers in international markets who in 
response not only to their respective regulatory environments but to their 
customers' demands, want products to be differentiated based on whether the 
ingredients are or are not derived from biotechnology."


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