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6-Regulation: Canadian GM label rules head to vote

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TITLE:  GM label rules head to vote
SOURCE: The Western Producer, Canada, by Barry Wilson
DATE:   June 5, 2003

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GM label rules head to vote

A committee that has spent more than three years trying to devise rules
for voluntarily labelling of genetically modified food may be on the
verge of success.

Doryne Peace, chair of a Canadian General Standards Board committee on GM
labeling, told a House of Commons committee May 28 that a stalemate over
labelling standards may have been broken at an early May meeting.

The 53 members of the industry-government committee will be asked to vote
in June on the latest version of the proposed rules.

"The committee members approached the meeting with renewed vigour," she
told MPs. "We are rather optimistic that this time around, we will be
moving toward a consensus document."

She said the vote will not be unanimous because committee members
continue to be divided on several key issues, including whether the
threshold for labelling should be fixed at five percent content.

"We hope to achieve a strong consensus but we will not have unanimity."

At the May meeting, a compromise proposal that the threshold be set at
two or three percent was debated and rejected as impractical because it's
difficult for the Canadian food sector to segregate crops. Peace said a
label guaranteeing that a product has less than five percent GM material
could not be guaranteed to be accurate in a country like Canada, which
has widespread GM crop production and an under-developed segregation system.

"We're dealing with the reality of Canada," she told MPs.

The news that a deal may be in the works was music to the ears of those
who support voluntary labelling. Last winter, the committee was
deadlocked and there was speculation the effort could collapse.

Instead, Agriculture Canada allocated an additional $50,000 to keep the
committee going for one more year, with instructions to complete the work

Peace said it gave committee members a sense of urgency at their May
meeting and led to compromises.

Mary Alton Mackey of the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee told
MPs that labelled products could be on store shelves by early 2004 if a
voluntary labelling standard is approved this summer.

"CBAC supports consumers' right to make an informed choice," she said.

GMO opponents like New Democratic Party health critic Svend Robinson
attacked the proposed compromise as a sham.

He said the idea of labelling food that contains 4.5 percent genetically
modified ingredients as "GM free" is ludicrous.

"This is a con job for consumers," he said. Labeling a beer with 4.5
percent alcohol content as "alcohol free" would not be acceptable.

Like the Bloc Québécois and a sizable minority of Liberal MPs, the NDP
supports mandatory labelling.

Robinson said it is not credible to claim that a system that gives food
companies a labelling choice really gives consumers reliable information
about what they are eating.

Karen Dodds, director general of the Health Canada food directorate, told
MPs that labelled or not, Canadians can be certain all food allowed on
the market is safe.


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