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6-Regulation: Codex Alimentarius should address ethical and ecological concerns on GM foods

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Codex should address ethical, ecological concerns on GM foods
SOURCE: The Financial Express, India, by Ashok B. Sharma
DATE:   26 Sep 2005

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Codex should address ethical, ecological concerns on GM foods

Negotiations on agriculture at Geneva did not make any progress. But
apparently trade issues relating to genetically modified (GM) foods
figured in the meeting of Codex taskforce in Makuhari, Chiba in Japan
last week.

The five-day meeting of the Codex taskfore for foods derived from moderm
biotechnology, which ended on September 23, centered more on trade and
nutritional aspects of GM foods, almost ignoring the ethical and
environmental aspects. India and Norway were in the forefront in
demanding a discussion on these aspects when the issue of transgenic
animals and fish came up. Norway is a major fish exporting country and
had rightly raised the issue.

Codex is an inter-governmental body and has the responsibility in setting
acceptable standards for food, which are often referred to as the base.
But countries can adopt more stringent national standards, provided they
are based on sound scientific reasoning. Global trade is generally
affected not due to the standards set by Codex but due to the stringent
sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) norms of the developed countries.
Developing countries find it difficult to comply with norms of the
developed world. In a way the easier Codex standards do not prove to be
of much help in resolving disputes relating to SPS norms on food.

Trade in GMOs and GM food is a contentious issue. The dispute between two
major trading blocs -- European Union and US -- on this is still pending
before WTO. Codex was expected to intervene to resolve the issue, but
does not seem to moving in this direction. Codex Alimentarius Commission
is an inter-governmental body jointly launched by UN Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO) and World Health Organisation (WHO). Therefore, both
FAO and WHO also have the responsibility of resloving this contentious
issue. Public concerns about health and environmental safety of GM food
and related ethical issues need to be effectively addressed on priority
to resolve trade-related issues. But unfortunately Codex has begun
ignoring these. A draft on transgenic animals prepared by Australia and
other countries deliberately ignored the ethical aspects. When it came up
for discussions there was a demand from many member countries to address
these. The representatives from FAO and WHO then admitted, "Ethics are
indeed important." But they preferred to deffer discussions till the next
meeting of the taskforce scheduled on November 27 to December 1, 2006. It
was also proposed that FAO would conduct a workshop on ethical issues
relating to GMOs and GM food a day before the taskforce meets.

The WHO representative suggested that instead of dwelling on these
issues, the Codex, in the next four years, should deal with the
nutritional aspects GM foods. Why should the discussion on only
nutritional aspect of GM food be taken up by Codex? Why does not Codex
suggest promotion of the traditional foods with high nutrition content?

Codex cannot take the pretext by saying that its other sub-committees are
discussing related issues like labelling of GM foods. It is the foremost
duty of the Codex taskforce on foods derived from biotechnology to
address the issues of public concern.

The guidelines on genetically modified plant prepared by Codex in 2003
also does not address ethical and environmental concerns. The discussion
was taken up on a draft prepared by Canada on nutritional aspects of
genetically modified plants. There, the issue of traces of unapproved
GMOs in food came up. The incident of Starlink Corn slipping into the
food chain five years ago and recent cases of BT 10 corn causing major
problems also figured.

The meeting of 263 delegates from 53 countries could not resolve the
issue. Food aid is also an importnat issue. In the recent past there had
been cases where US was determined to dump GM corn as food aid to some
African countries, much against their will. Controversies relating to GM
food not only relates to science, but also to health, environmental and
ethical concerns. Codex should address these issues.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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