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CONSUMERS & REGULATION: Canada and U.S. downplay significance of UN GM food labelling agreement



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   CANADA, U.S. DOWNPLAY SIGNIFICANCE OF GM FOOD LABELLING AGREEMENT

SOURCE:  Postmedia News, Canada

AUTHOR:  Sarah Schmidt

URL:     http://www.canada.com/business/Canada+downplay+significance+food+labelling+agreement/5060991/story.html

DATE:    06.07.2011

SUMMARY: "And an official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture told Postmedia News that there is nothing in this compilation document that shields countries that bring in mandatory GM labelling from a WTO challenge. ?This is a document of pre-existing language that has already been approved. Nothing new is in the document with regard to the pre-approved language, and all that language is being gathered and filed in one document,? the official said. Karen Batra, director of food and agriculture communications at Biotechnology Industry Organization, added: ?Nothing changes as far as the guideline. It still does not mandate labelling."

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CANADA, U.S. DOWNPLAY SIGNIFICANCE OF GM FOOD LABELLING AGREEMENT

OTTAWA ? The first international guidance document on labelling genetically modified foods ? approved by consensus Tuesday by a body composed of the world?s food safety regulators ? prompted bickering Wednesday over whether it represents a boost for countries wanting to bring in mandatory GM food labelling.

The international summit involving more than 100 countries, including Canada, produced the consensus guide on GM labelling in Geneva after two decades of political wrangling among countries that pitted the United States and Canada against Europe and many developing countries.

But the significance of the new Codex commission text emerged as a hugely divisive issue a day later, when consumer groups heralded the document as a consumer-rights milestone while longtime biotechnology proponents said it was no big deal. The world?s largest biotechnology organization even suggested the text could make some nations and international bodies, such as the European Union, more vulnerable to a World Trade Organization (WTO) challenge.

Under WTO rules, national measures based on Codex guidance or official texts are protected if they are challenged as a barrier to trade.

Citing an explicit mention of ?guidance? for labelling and ?different approaches? regarding the labelling of GM foods in the purpose and considerations section, consumer groups are hailing the new document as a major breakthrough, especially for developing countries ? many of them keen to move on mandatory labelling but fearful of trade challenges until now.

The European Union already has in place traceability and compulsory labelling rules for GM foods, and European countries were vulnerable to trade challenges from the United States or Canada.

?It?s clear that Codex has agreed that GE foods can be labelled. That?s totally new. This is a major victory,? said Phil Bereano, an activist and professor emeritus at the University of Washington who has attended Codex sessions for the past decade.

?The WTO shield is completely new. That?s why the industry and the U.S. fought against such a guidance document for 18 years.?

Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, added that while any Codex guidance is voluntary, this development puts pressure on countries like Canada and the United States, where companies are seeking approval to sell genetically modified pigs and salmon for human consumption.

The public debate over labelling GM salmon is particularly lively in the U.S., and she said North America risks becoming even more isolated if more and more consumers elsewhere get transparent information about the presence of GM foods or ingredients.

Amid the bickering over the new Codex guidance, clarity emerged for Canadian consumers. Health Canada, a longtime opponent of mandatory labelling for GM foods, said the voluntary guidance doesn?t change the department?s position.

And an official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture told Postmedia News that there is nothing in this compilation document that shields countries that bring in mandatory GM labelling from a WTO challenge.

?This is a document of pre-existing language that has already been approved. Nothing new is in the document with regard to the pre-approved language, and all that language is being gathered and filed in one document,? the official said.

Karen Batra, director of food and agriculture communications at Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), added: ?Nothing changes as far as the guideline. It still does not mandate labelling. It encourages companies and countries to be consistent with the Codex guideline, which simply says biotech foods don?t need to labelled any more than conventional foods need to be labelled.?

Tom Heilandt, a senior food standards officer at the Codex secretariat, said he can?t speak for the WTO, but said the debate about the collection of existing Codex texts relevant to the labelling of biotech foods was focused on a few key points.

?The main points of dispute in the discussion were in the purpose and considerations and on whether Codex should adopt any guidance at all. It was a big step forward for Codex to find a consensus on this issue,? said Heilandt, heralding the facilitation work of a Canadian committee chairman.

In Canada, there is no produce on the market that is genetically modified, but GM corn, canola, soy and sugar beets grown in Canada end up in products like cornflakes, corn chips, sweeteners, eggs, milk, meat, canola oil, tofu and sugar. Genetically modified cottonseed oil, papaya and squash imported from the United States can also end up on store shelves in Canada in the form of vegetable oil in products and fruit juices.

Since there are no mandatory labelling rules, there are no statistics on the percentage of processed foods containing GM ingredients, but groups estimate that about 70 per cent of processed foods on grocery store shelves in North America contain GM ingredients.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   NEW GUIDANCE PAVES WAY TO LABELING OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD

SOURCE:  The Hill, USA

AUTHOR:  Julian Pecquet

URL:     http://thehill.com/blogs/healthwatch/food-safety/169637-gm-food-labeling-moves-ahead-after-us-drops-opposition

DATE:    05.07.2011

SUMMARY: "[Consumers International] called the U.S. support for the guidance a ?striking reversal,? but the Obama administration disputed that characterization, saying it remains opposed to mandatory labeling. ?The adopted text confirms that Codex labeling texts developed for foods generally, also apply to foods derived from modern biotechnology,? an administration official said. ?This adopted text clarifies that foods derived from modern biotechnology are not necessarily different from other foods simply due to their method of production.?"

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NEW GUIDANCE PAVES WAY TO LABELING OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD

Food safety regulators from around the world on Tuesday approved food labeling guidance that allows countries to label genetically modified foods without risking to run afoul of international free trade laws.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission, which consists of the world?s food safety regulatory agencies, moved forward with guidance on labeling at the annual Codex summit in Geneva, Switzerland. The guidance was immediately hailed as a historic victory by consumer advocates.

The guidance isn?t mandatory, but its approval by an international body of food safety regulators will protect countries that adopt GM food labeling from the threat of World Trade Organization lawsuits. The commission was created in 1963 to develop international food standards.

?We are particularly pleased that the new guidance recognizes that GM labeling is justified as a tool for post market monitoring,? Michael Hansen, Consumers International?s lead delegate to the regulators? meeting in Geneva, said in a statement. ?This is one of the key reasons we want all GM foods to be required to be labelled ? so that if consumers eat modified foods, they will be able to know and report to regulators if they have an allergic or other adverse reaction.?

The organization called the U.S. support for the guidance a ?striking reversal,? but the Obama administration disputed that characterization, saying it remains opposed to mandatory labeling.

?The adopted text confirms that Codex labeling texts developed for foods generally, also apply to foods derived from modern biotechnology,? an administration official said. ?This adopted text clarifies that foods derived from modern biotechnology are not necessarily different from other foods simply due to their method of production.?



                                  PART 3

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TITLE:   DEAL REACHED ON LABELS FOR GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD

SOURCE:  Canadian TV, Canada

AUTHOR:  

URL:     http://winnipeg.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110706/genetically-modified-food-gmo-labels-110706/20110706/?hub=WinnipegHome

DATE:    06.07.2011

SUMMARY: "Regulators from more than 100 countries have agreed to new guidelines that will make it easier for food makers to say on their labels whether their products contain genetically-modified ingredients. But consumers in Canada are unlikely to see any changes here. The Codex Alimentarius Commission, a group of more than 100 of the world?s food safety regulatory agencies, agreed to the guidelines on Tuesday, after years of debate."

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DEAL REACHED ON LABELS FOR GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD

Sodium list on a food label

Regulators from more than 100 countries have agreed to new guidelines that will make it easier for food makers to say on their labels whether their products contain genetically-modified ingredients. But consumers in Canada are unlikely to see any changes here.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission, a group of more than 100 of the world?s food safety regulatory agencies, agreed to the guidelines on Tuesday, after years of debate.

Until now, the U.S. had objected to such labels. But during the annual Codex summit in Geneva this week, the U.S. delegation surprised many by deciding to drop its opposition.

The new Codex agreement means that any country that wants to bring in new food labels that would identify genetically modified ingredients will no longer risk running afoul of international free trade laws or facing a legal fight in front of the World Trade Organization.

The new guidelines are voluntary only. But Consumers International, a large international group representing consumer groups, said it?s pleased with the deal.

?While the agreement falls short of the consumer movement?s long-held demand for endorsement of mandatory GM (genetically modified) food labelling, this is still a significant milestone for consumer rights,? Consumers International President Samuel Ochieng said in a statement.

?This guidance is extremely good news for the worlds? consumers who want to know what is in the foods on their plates.?

In Canada, about 70 per cent of food sold includes genetically modified ingredients from such common crops as corn, soy, and canola.

While many other countries now have mandatory GM labelling rules in place, Canada does not.

Health Canada, which shares responsibility with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for food labelling policies, does allow food makers to voluntarily mention whether their foods contain GM ingredients. But Eric Darier, who heads the anti-GMO (genetically modified organisms) campaign for Greenpeace Canada, says such standards aren?t effective.

?I challenge your readers to find one label in Canada that mentions whether the food contains GE ingredients,? Darier told CTV.ca in an interview.

?Voluntary labelling doesn?t work.?

Darier says while food labels in Canada won?t change because of this agreement, but it does allow other countries to enact their own mandatory labelling standards without fear of reprisals from big GM-crop producers like the U.S. and Canada.

Health Canada has long contended that there are no known health risks from eating GM foods.

?Every new GM food product must undergo a rigorous pre-market safety assessment before it is allowed to be sold in Canada,? the department says on its website.

?No GM food is allowed on the market in Canada unless Health Canada?s scientists are satisfied that the food is safe and nutritious.?

But Darier says many Canadians are not comfortable with genetic modification. Poll after poll has shown that most Canadians want to know whether their food includes engineered ingredients.

Health Canada says it won?t call for mandatory labelling until it receives information that there?s a health concern.

?But that?s a bit of a silly argument,? says Darier. ?A lot of what already appears on food labels isn?t about health or safety. Products can mention if they?re organic or they?re Kosher or whether they were made in Canada. That?s not about health.?

The bottom line, he says, is that consumers should be allowed to be fully informed about their choices.

?Consumers have a fundamental right to know how their food is produced,? he says.



                                  PART 4

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TITLE:   GMO LABELLING

SOURCE:  The Cape Breton Post, Canada

AUTHOR:  Editorial

URL:     http://www.capebretonpost.com/Opinion/Editorial/2011-07-07/article-2635934/GMO-labelling/1

DATE:    07.07.2011

SUMMARY: "The consensus allows individual countries to develop new food labels identifying GM ingredients and protects them from litigation. Consumers International?s triumph was tempered somewhat by the fact that the new guidelines are voluntary. [...] In fact, because they?re voluntary, the guidelines won?t have much of an effect in Canada."

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GMO LABELLING

The genetically modified food genie has long been out of the bottle in Canada.

GM crops entered the Canadian food supply in 1996 and it?s estimated that about 70 per cent of processed foods sold in Canada contain GM ingredients.

Consumers International (a worldwide federation of 220 consumer groups) is celebrating a recent agreement by members of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (a worldwide federation of 100 food safety regulatory agencies) on GM ingredient labelling guidelines.

The consensus allows individual countries to develop new food labels identifying GM ingredients and protects them from litigation.

Consumers International?s triumph was tempered somewhat by the fact that the new guidelines are voluntary.

?While the agreement falls short of the consumer movement?s long-held demand for endorsement of mandatory GM food labelling, this is still a significant milestone for consumer rights,? Consumers International president Samuel Ochieng said in a release.

In fact, because they?re voluntary, the guidelines won?t have much of an effect in Canada.

Health Canada is in charge of food labelling in this country and the federal department has no plans to force food makers to indicate the presence of GM ingredients on labels.

?Health Canada would only require labelling of GM food products if there was a clear, scientifically established, health risk or significant nutritional changes, which could be mitigated through labelling,? said Health Canada spokesman Stephane Shank in a statement. ?To date, Health Canada has not identified health risks associated with GM foods that have been approved for sale in Canada.?

Health Canada makes a valid point. Pushing to have processors identify GM ingredients when they pose no proven health risks and are in close to 70 per cent of processed foods anyway is increasingly becoming an exercise in futility.

Many critics see a larger potential for harm in developing and growing GM crops ? to the ecosystem, including the human race as a whole ? compared to individuals eating foods containing GM ingredients.

Arguments against growing GM crops include: it?s morally wrong to tamper with biological processes beyond traditional selective breeding, humans can?t comprehend the future consequences of genetic manipulation, and there?s a risk of GM crops cross-pollinating with conventional or wild plants.

Pushing for GM labelling is akin to closing the stable door after the genetically modified horse has bolted.

Those who wish to avoid foods with GM ingredients ? either because of perceived individual health risks or larger-scale concerns ? have options: buy foods labelled as non-GMO and/or organic products which can?t contain GM ingredients as legislated in Canada, and avoid foods with ingredients likely to be genetically modified such as non-organic soy, corn and canola oil.



                                  PART 5

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TITLE:   CANADIAN CONSUMERS IN DARK ABOUT GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD

SOURCE:  Guelph Mercury, Canada

AUTHOR:  Drew Halfnight

URL:     http://www.guelphmercury.com/news/local/article/559315--canadian-consumers-in-dark-about-genetically-modified-food

DATE:    07.07.2011

SUMMARY: "People have a right to know if their food is genetically modified, even if nobody can prove such modification causes health risks, University of Guelph professor Sylvain Charlebois said Wednesday. It?s about transparency, the associate dean of management and economics at the U of G who is a frequent commentator on food policy, said. ?Any policy that would encourage the industry to be more transparent toward consumers is always good news,? he said. ?I think it?s dearly needed.?"

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CANADIAN CONSUMERS IN DARK ABOUT GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD

GUELPH ? People have a right to know if their food is genetically modified, even if nobody can prove such modification causes health risks, University of Guelph professor Sylvain Charlebois said Wednesday.

It?s about transparency, the associate dean of management and economics at the U of G who is a frequent commentator on food policy, said.

?Any policy that would encourage the industry to be more transparent toward consumers is always good news,? he said. ?I think it?s dearly needed.?

Charlebois was reacting to the revelation this week the United States has ended its opposition to international guidelines for genetically modified food labelling.

After a 20-year battle over the issue, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a global association of more than 100 food safety agencies, will now be able to publish the guidelines, paving the way for countries to being labelling food produced using modern biotechnology.

Previously, countries that wanted to label modified foods faced a legal challenge from the World Trade Organization.

Canada, along with the United States and Australia, had fought against the guidelines for more than a decade. Canada withdrew its opposition last year.

But a Health Canada spokesperson said this week the department has no intention of adopting the voluntary guidelines, as long as government scientists have not identified clear health risks.

Alison Alison Blay-Palmer, an assistant professor at Wilfrid Laurier University who specializes in sustainable food systems, said the government has a vested interest in protecting genomics.

?The government has invested in biotechnology research, either directly through their own labs, or by supporting research in private corporations, and also in universities,? she said, asserting there?s a critical dearth of research on the long-term impacts of genetically modified food on human health.

?Maybe there aren?t any, but we don?t have the answers to that question,? she said.

Canada is a leading international producer of genetically modified food. Today, nearly 70 per cent of the foods Canadians eat have genetically modified components.

Charlebois shared similar sentiments. ?We need to continue to do research in order to better appreciate longitudinal risks,? he said, adding genetic modification of food only began in 1994. ?It?s still in its infancy, really.?

But public understanding of GMOs has improved since the early days, when people called them Frankenfoods, he said. ?Of course, they have a right to know what they?re eating. So labeling is the perfect education tool for teaching people about GMOs.?

Stephen Yarrow, vice-president of plant biotechnology at Croplife Canada, a trade association representing biotech companies, dismissed the forthcoming guidelines and said labeling would be costly and unnecessary.

?Croplife supports consumer choice when it comes to food and so on, but we do strongly hold the view that new labeling requirements that go beyond health and safety concerns are unnecessary,? he said, adding, ?There are no health and safety concerns.?

Bray-Palmer offered her own response to this line of reasoning. ?If there?s nothing wrong with genetically modified food, then what?s the problem with labelling it as such?? she said. ?People have a right to make a decision about the food they eat.?

Asked to respond to concerns about long-term impacts, Yarrow said, ?I guess that people have those concerns, which we don?t really understand.? He said Canada?s food safety regulations are second to none, pointing out people who want to avoid GMOs can already buy organic.

Jodi Koberinski, executive director of the Organic Council of Ontario, said GMO labelling would force large producers to share the burden of tracing the origin of food.

?When you bring traceability into the food system, it adds to the cost,? she said. ?We?re already paying for traceability. It?s part of the cost of organic.?

She said the argument that GMO labelling would be expensive is ?irresponsible at best? and called Canada?s opposition to those efforts ?an embarrassment.?

She said governments in a host of countries, including Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, India, Saudi Arabia and Japan, as well as the European Union, appear to be moving forward with labeling.