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Nations Finally Agree On GM Food Labeling

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
July 5, 2011

Nations finally agree on GM food labelling

Sarah Schmidt, Postmedia News: Tuesday, July 5, 2011 1:35 PM

— The countries of the world ended two decades of bickering Tuesday when they agreed to guidelines for genetically modified food labelling.

The United Nations summit of food safety regulators from more than 100 countries, including Health Canada, produced the first-ever consensus document when the United States dropped its long-standing objection to the labelling guidance document at the Geneva summit after debating the issue for 20 years.

Canada had objected to GM labelling guidelines until last year, when the international group met in Quebec City.

The new Codex agreement to which Canada signed on now means that any country that wants to bring in mandatory GM food labelling rules will no longer face the threat of a legal challenge from the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Consumer groups on Tuesday hailed the breakthrough as the first step to GM food labelling, especially in developing countries keen to move on mandatory labelling of GM crops and foods.

Under international law, national measures based on Codex guidance or standards cannot be challenged as a barrier to trade.

The consumer groups also said the development puts pressure on countries like Canada and the United States, where applications to sell genetically modified pigs and salmon for human consumption are under review, elevating calls for labelling.

"We will see more countries now labelling GM foods, and Canada and the U.S are exceptions in the world," Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, said. "This is a current and relevant issue and it will be brought to bear on Canada's decision."

Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at the New York-based Consumers Union and lead delegate at Codex representing over 220 groups from around the world, added that the agreement also recognizes the enormous health monitoring benefits of giving consumers transparent information about the presence of GM foods.

"We are particularly pleased that the new guidance recognizes that GM labelling is justified as a tool for post-market monitoring. 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," said Hansen.

Health Canada was not immediately available to comment on the new Codex guidelines.


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