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Choice At Risk From International Food Standards

6 May 2002

Consumer Choice At Risk From International Food Standards

“It is the consumer's right to choose to avoid food made using a particular process that is being denied. "Modern Biotechbology" is a generic term that obscures the process. It is like denying Jewish people to eat Kosher food, or Muslims to eat Halal." said Jon Carapiet of GE Free NZ.

"There is no "safety" aspect to labelling these, or even simple things like free range eggs. The market has decided there is a demand , but now Codex is trying to suppress consumer choice by preventing the clear labelling that people are demanding." said Jon.

Labelling GE foods the product of 'modern biotechnology' appears to be an attempt to modify consumer's opinions of genetic engineering and resultant food products. Consumer opinion worldwide is still demanding choice.

New Zealand's negotiating body at CODEX is MAF who recently stated they are part of the Quadrilateral group consisting of the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The US, it has been stated is becoming increasingly isolated in international negotiations and facing increasing pressure from both the global North and South for precautionary measures regarding GMOs. Thirty-five nations, representing a billion people, are involved in setting mandatory labeling requirements for genetically engineered foods.


Background information:-

Global Safety Rules for Biotech Foods Agreed

YOKOHAMA, Japan, March 12, 2002 (ENS) - All foods made using biotechnology should be subject to pre-marketing safety assessments, and nations should be free to use tracing systems as part of their risk management procedures for such products, a United Nations task force on foods derived from biotechnology has concluded.

A round of applause by the 226 participants greeted the agreement reached March 6 by the Codex Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology in Yokohama, Japan.

The group's draft principles on the risk analysis and management of biotech foods mark a step forward in the global management of genetically modified (GM) foods. The principles appear to vindicate, at least partially, the European Union's insistence on introducing a system to enable tracing GM foods.

The task force, which has been hosted by Japan since 2000, will go on developing guidelines for risk assessment of GM foods originating from microorganisms. It will continue its efforts until March 2003.

The final work of the task force will be submitted to the Codex Alimentarius Commission, at its next meeting in July 2003 in Rome, Italy, for adoption. The commission is a joint program of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization which sets standards in all areas of food production and regulation.

While these standards are technically voluntary, they generally gain some type of legal authority once they are adopted by the World Trade Organization and other international bodies, as well as national governments.

As agreed, the draft biotech food principles call for all foods to be safety assessed on a case-by-case basis, with "both intended and unintended effects" considered. "New or altered hazards" should be identified as should changes in key nutrients "relevant to human health," the principles state.

When foods are genetically engineered, genes from bacteria, viruses, other plants or animals are inserted into crops like corn, canola, soybeans, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, and papayas to achieve more favorable characteristics such as higher yield, faster ripening, pest control, or herbicide tolerance.

Genetically modified foods are a concern for people who have food allergies because they have not been tested or regulated, nor is there a requirement that they be labeled in most countries.

Nations should also be free to employ a range of risk management measures including post-market monitoring. Such monitoring may necessitate a GM food tracing system, which would also allow products to be withdrawn if negative effects on human health are identified, the task force agreed.

The Codex Alimentarius, or the food code, has become the most important global reference point for consumers, food producers and processors, national food control agencies and the international food trade. The code has had an impact on the thinking of food producers and processors as well as on the awareness of the consumers.

The FAO says the influence of the food code extends to every continent, and "its contribution to the protection of public health and fair practices in the food trade is immeasurable."

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