(Beyond Pesticides, July 7, 2011) After nearly two decades of struggling for consensus within the global food safety body, the Codex Alimentarius Commision, the U.S. ended its opposition to the genetically modified (GM) labeling guidance document on Tuesday, July 5, 2011, allowing it to move forward to become official Codex text. Though this new agreement does not require mandatory labeling, it will allow countries wishing to adopt GM food labeling without fear of legal challenges from the World Trade Organization (WTO), because national measures based on Codex guidelines cannot be challenged as a barrier to trade.
This will have immediate implications for consumers, according to Michael Hansen, Ph.D., Consumers International’s lead delegate at Codex, and a senior scientist at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. He stated: “We are particularly pleased that the new guidance recognizes that GM labeling 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 labeled – 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 Codex Alimentarius Commission is comprised of over 100 agencies that monitor food safety around the world. It was created in 1963 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop food standards, guidelines and related texts such as codes of practice under the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme.
According to the Non GMO Project, Codex guidance on the topic of labeling GMO food began in 1991 and was met with a tremendous amount of resistance from the US. In 1995, the Codex executive committee stated that, “The claimed right to know was ill-defined and variable and in this respect could not be used by codex as the primary basis of decision making on appropriate labeling.”
Currently, there are no regulations requiring GM foods to be labeled as such and the best way for consumers to avoid GM foods is to choose organic products. Beyond Pesticides has long pushed for stronger regulations reflecting a precautionary approach toward GM food technologies. Several challenges are currently being litigated against federal regulators regarding lax regulatory review of GM products and their potential for contamination of the natural environment as well as traditionally-bred cultivated species.
Though genetic engineering is often touted by chemical manufacturers as a way to reduce pesticide usage and increase disease resistance, so far it has been shown to increase pesticide usage, while disease resistant varieties are still largely in the experimental stages. Most GM crops currently on the market are genetically modified to be resistant to pests and pesticides through the incorporation of genes into food crops from a natural bacterium insecticide (Bt) or the development of herbicide-resistant crops. Thus, there are serious public health and pest resistance problems associated with GM food.