Talks on GM labels stalled at Codex meeting

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Consumer protection, Genetic engineering

Members of Codex fail to reach a decision on the creation of
labelling guidelines for genetically modified foods as divisions on
biotech foods remain entrenched between the countries.

Meeting last week in Malaysia, the global organisation's committee on food labelling deferred any standards, instead opting to continue talks on the controversial topic over the coming year.

According to a report on Checkbiotech.org​, country delegations were divided: thirty of the 55 countries present spoke in support of creating GM labeling standards, including the UK, France, India and Brazil. While massive biotech supplier the US, along with Australia, Argentina and four other countries, wanted to 'terminate' the labelling discussions.

The other 18 country delegations at the meeting remained silent on the issue.

Created in 1963 by UN bodies, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation, Codex Alimentarius​develops food standards and guidelines for codes of practice in the global food chain.

Key principles embodied in Codex are consumer protection, fair practice in the sale of food, and facilitating trade.

A delegation from the Consumers International (CI) had lobbied for delegates to support international labelling guidelines. CI says that Codex guidelines would protect countries that label GM food from a possible World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute, as well as giving guidance to developing countries wishing to introduce labelling legislation.

"The interests of biotech companies are being put before consumer interests,"​ said Samuel Ochieng, CEO at Consumers Information Network, Kenya.

And according to the Consumers' Association, forty countries have mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods (including the EU-25), accounting for one third of the world's population.

But despite this majority, seven countries at the Codex meeting were able to put the brakes on "substantial process"​.

The failure to reach a unaminous decision in Malaysia reflects the mixed feelings that genetically modified foods provoke.

European consumers, for example, remain distinctly wary of all biotech foods; and tough legislation on GM food labels brought into the EU25 last year provide the cynical European consumer with the clear option to choose, or not, a GM product.

By contrast, consumers in the US, also the number one global supplier of GM crops, are far less suspicious of GM foods, generally open to the concept.

Related topics: Regulation

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