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6-Regulation: New UN standards on GM foods a 'victory for consumers'

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TITLE:  New UN standards on GM foods a 'victory for consumers'
SOURCE: Consumer International, Press Release
DATE:   July 1, 2003

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New UN standards on GM foods a 'victory for consumers'

Rome: The Codex Alimentarius Commission, the UN food standards agency
today adopted three sets of standards on safety of genetically modified
food (GMOs) that support strong regulations for these foods.

'These standards are a tremendous victory for consumers, for science, for
good regulation and for common sense. The food safety officials from
dozens of countries who negotiated these documents did critical work on a
highly polarised issue,' stated Julian Edwards, Director-General of
Consumers International, which represents more than 250 organisations in
110 countries

The three documents provide guidelines for assessing the safety of GM
food plants, such as maize, corn and soybeans, and of GM microorganisms,
which are used in beer and cheese production. They provide pages of
detailed procedures for determining if a GM food contains new toxins or
allergens, is altered nutritionally, or exhibits unexpected effects. They
establish a baseline standard that a GMO should be 'as safe as the
conventional counterpart.' They also endorse the use of 'product tracing'
as a tool of risk management.

Codex standards are important because they can be used to settle trade
disputes. The USA has just filed a challenge against the European Union
(EU) at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on genetically modified food.

Consumers International sees the Codex standards as strengthening EU
countries that seek to regulate GMO safety and to establish traceability
systems that will allow tracking in commerce. By 2004, 35 countries
(including China, Japan, Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand)
covering half the world's population, will require mandatory government
safety assessments before GMOs are allowed on the market. However the USA
prefers a system of voluntary consultations about safety, where the
company developing the seed ultimately decides whether it is safe.

Michael Hansen, representing Consumers International at the Rome meeting,
says: 'These documents provide a legal basis under WTO rules for the EU's
strong safety regulations for GMOs. They explicitly state that a
premarket safety assessment should be undertaken.'

Consumers International views the clause and related footnote on product
tracing as a legal justification for the EU traceability system. This was
one of the most hotly contested portions of the text. The final text was
agreed a year ago at a meeting in Yokohama of the Codex Ad Hoc
Intergovernmental Task Force on Food Derived from Biotechnology.

The documents address several key controversies about GM food. They:

·state that the transfer of genes from commonly allergenic foods (e.g.
peanuts) should be 'avoided' unless it can be proven that the transferred
gene does not produce an allergen

·advise against using any antibiotic resistance marker genes in GMOs that
create resistance to 'clinically used' antibiotics, a large and growing

The US has said it is challenging the slow pace of the EU's approval
system at the WTO, not the system itself. But the US has criticised the
EU labelling and traceability proposals on many occasions. It is not yet
known exactly what issues the US will raise when it argues its case at
the WTO.

Notes to editors

The Codex Alimentarius is a joint effort of the UN World Health
Organization and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The Codex
Alimentarius Commission, its governing body, meets once every two years,
and is meeting from 30 June to 7 July 2003 in Rome.

Standards adopted by the Codex Alimentarius are automatically considered
to be based on science, and are therefore immune from challenge at the
World Trade Organization. Codex generally seeks to adopt standards by
consensus, although it can vote on standards as well.

Codex standards are developed by special committees which generally take
many years to develop a final text. Food safety officials from dozens of
countries, as well as official 'observers' from industry and non-
governmental organisations, participate in committee negotiations. When a
committee reaches consensus on a text, it is forwarded to the Codex
Alimentarius Commission for final adoption.

The three documents on GMOs were developed by a special Ad Hoc
Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology, which
has been hosted by the government of Japan. Work on the three documents
began in 2000, and was completed in March 2003. The documents address
many contentious aspects of policy on GMOs.

The three recently approved documents, with some of the important
clauses, are as follows:

Principles for the Risk Assessment for Foods Derived from Modern Biotechnology

12. A pre-market safety assessment should be undertaken... and be
performed on a case-by-case basis.

16. Risk management measures... should be proportional to the risk...
taking into account other legitimate factors.

18. Risk managers should take into account the uncertainties identified...

19. Risk management measures may include, as appropriate, food labelling,
conditions for marketing approvals and post-market monitoring.

21. Specific tools may be needed to facilitate... risk management
measures. These may include... the tracing of products...

Footnote 9. It is recognised that there are other applications of product
tracing. These applications should be consistent with the provisions of
the SPS and TBT Agreements.

Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from
Recombinant-DNA Plants

13. The concept of substantial equivalence is a key step... However it is
not a safety assessment in itself; rather it represents the starting
point... 14. Unintended effects... may also arise... Safety assessment
should... reduce the possibility that a food derived from a recombinant-
DNA plant would have an unexpected, adverse effect on human health.

21. The goal of each safety assessment is to provide assurance, in the
light of the best available scientific knowledge, that the food does not
cause harm when prepared, used and/or eaten according to its intended
use. The expected endpoint of such as assessment will be a conclusion
regarding whether the new food is a safe as the conventional counterpart
taking into account dietary impact of any changes in nutritional content
or value.

36. Information should be provided to ensure that genes coding for known
toxins or anti-nutrients present in the donor organisms are not transferred...

43. The transfer of genes from commonly allergenic foods and from foods
known to elicit gluten-sensitive enteropathy in sensitive individuals
should be avoided unless it is documented that the transferred gene does
not code for an allergen or for a protein involved in gluten-sensitive

58. Antibiotic resistance genes used in food production that encode
resistance to clinically used antibiotics should not be present in foods.

Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods Produced
Using Recombinant-DNA Microorganisms


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