By Héctor Villaverde
During a May meeting in Malaysia, the Codex committee dealing with food labeling issues once again delayed any regulations on the labeling of foods produced by biotechnology. Work on GMO food labeling began in 1991, 14 years ago!
Codex Alimentarius Committee once again with no progress on GM food labeling
During a meeting held in Malaysia, between 9 and 13 May, the Codex committee dealing with food labeling issues once again delayed any regulation on the labeling of foods produced by biotechnology. Despite broad support for GM foods to be labeled, the conclusion of the meeting was to defer the decision. Discussions will continue throughout the year, despite the little progress made at this meeting. Work to develop a standard on labeling transgenic foods began in 1991, 14 years ago!
Despite the vast majority of government delegations that spoke out in favor of the creation of the norm on the labeling of transgenic foods (30 countries out of 55 present), the opposition of the United States, backed by Mexico, Argentina, Paraguay, and the Philippines, slowed the progress of discussions on the standard, as the latter wanted to remove the issue from the Codex agenda. Paradoxically, Australia and Thailand, countries that have mandatory labeling standards in their countries, spoke out against the existence of the standard. The remaining countries present did not take a public position on the issue, in several cases due to the lack of consensus within their countries on this issue (the report on the meeting, and the members of the participating delegations, can be found at: http: //www.codexalimentarius.net/web/reports.jsp?lang=es).
The Codex Alimentarius is a body created in 1963 by FAO and WHO, which develops standards and guidelines on food. The principles it works with are consumer protection and fair practices in the food trade.
A strong delegation from the international consumer movement - Consumers International (CI) (with 12 delegates from all continents) worked hard to solicit government support for an international standard or guideline that would protect countries that label GM foods, of a dispute before the World Trade Organization (WTO) and would guide developing countries that want to legislate around labeling. The rights of consumers to safety, to information, and to a healthy and sustainable environment are threatened by the current commercialization of transgenic foods.
The attempt by the United States to eliminate the elaboration of the norm, with the support of some countries, mainly Latin American, is presumed the prelude for this country to sue before the WTO the countries that recognize the right of consumers to be informed about the transgenic character of a food.
The CI delegation expressed the deep disappointment of the international consumer movement, by the results of this discussion, around which an intense campaign is being carried out worldwide. In the opinion of Consumers International, the interests of biotech companies and a few countries that produce GMOs are preventing the recognition of consumer rights. Today, 40 countries around the world, which together account for 30% of the world's population, have mandatory labeling standards for foods produced by biotechnology.
David Cuming, Director of the GMO Food Campaign at Consumers International, noted that CI's member consumer organizations will continue to make significant efforts around the world, trying to influence countries to support GMO labeling. “In this sense, we have heard massive support for the labeling of transgenic foods from nations that had not given it before. The United States and other countries could not avoid the debate on the subject, and we are optimistic that now more nations understand the importance of labeling to ensure consumer information. Consumers' right to know must be supported. "
Countries with mandatory GMO food labeling: Australia, Brazil, China, Japan, Russia and the European Union.
Countries that tried to close the discussions on the guidelines for labeling transgenic foods in Codex: United States, Mexico, Argentina, Paraguay, Philippines.
Countries with labeling of transgenic foods that spoke against the Codex guidelines for those foods: Australia and Thailand.
Countries that supported the debate on the labeling of transgenic foods in the Codex: European Union (EU): Austria, Ireland, Finland, Germany, Italy, Greece, Spain, United Kingdom, Poland, Belgium, France, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary and the Netherlands.
Other countries that supported the debate: Japan, Brazil, Malaysia, India, Kenya, Indonesia, Switzerland, Norway, New Zealand, Tunisia, Senegal, Swaziland, Panama, Turkey and Ghana.
Seminar on "The vision of consumers on the labeling of transgenic foods"
One day before the start of the meeting, Consumers International held an event to inform the participating delegations about the opinion of the international consumer movement in relation to transgenic foods and their labeling.
"GMO problems in developing countries mean that intellectual property rights give power and control to multinationals," Samuel Ochieng of the Consumer Information Network of Kenya said today. "This leads to less sovereignty for countries and the reduction of the rights of peasants and farmers," he added, explaining that "other concerns are the loss of biodiversity, due to cross-pollination, and food safety."
Ochieng, for whom the cost of labeling these foods "cannot be greater than the cost of not labeling them", spoke today to some sixty people who came to hear exhibitors at a meeting entitled "Consumer concerns about labeling: the case of genetically modified foods ”, organized by Consumers International and VOICE, India.
At the seminar, Dr Sri Ram Khanna, President of VOICE, emphasized that the time has come for Codex to conclude that debate. He said consumer health is increasingly relegated to a secondary place by business interests, emphasizing the importance of consumer rights to information and security.
For his part, Dr. Michael Hansen, from the Consumers Union of the United States, said that "labeling can help detect unwanted effects of GM foods, such as their ability to deepen allergies." Hansen also referred to the long-running debate over the labeling of these foods, noting that “Codex needs to make a final decision this week and protect consumers.
Cheah Chee Ho, from FOMCA, Malaysia, brought a cultural issue of interest to the table, noting that “the fact that a gene from a pig gets into a vegetable is important information in a country where many people are Muslim. These ingredients are prohibited in your religion and therefore must be labeled ”.
Finally, Saree Aongsamwang of the Thailand Consumers Foundation said that when companies are obliged, they label GM foods. "In Thailand, some companies say they can't put a label on GM foods, but they do put that label on their exports." The Thai leader added that "all consumers have the right to information", and that "there must be a mandate to develop a complete and mandatory labeling for all genetically modified foods from which all consumers benefit." www.EcoPortal.net
* Hector Villaverde
Member of the Consumers International delegation to the meeting of the Codex Committee on Food Labeling