Tuesday, May 18, 2010


How commercial interests can influence global food policies is illustrated by the manipulations and maneuvering going on at the Codex level to prevent mandatory labeling of GM foods. The stakes are high since Codex standards are bench mark parameters used to day to settle trade disputes amongst WTO member countries. Many countries have already put in place such mandatory label declaration so that the consumer can make an informed choice while scouting for purchase of foods in the market. Since GM foods are still under a cloud regarding their absolute safety, consumer has fundamental right to be informed whether a product being purchased has GM food ingredients or not. It is immoral for a country like the US to brow beat international community to toe its line viz labeling should be only voluntary, not mandatory.

A number of consumer groups, concerned scientists, progressive farming organizations and food processors are opposing the U.S. proposal that could forbid mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods in other countries. An influential coalition of organizations that includes the Consumers Union, The Organic Trade Association, Food and Water Watch and the Union of Concerned Scientists had earlier appealed to the US authorities to reconsider their decision to oppose compulsory labeling at the Codex Committee on Food Labeling meeting in Canada. The Codex Committee is a crucial technical body of the United Nations Organization that evolves food safety and labeling standards which are used to settle international differences in export-import business.

The paradox of the situation is that the current US position could potentially create significant problems for food producers within the US itself who want to indicate on the labels that their products contain no GE ingredients, including in organic food, where genetic engineering is a prohibited method. The FDA and USDA oppose allowing individual countries to adopt policies on mandatory labeling probably because it could be misleading, implying that GM/GE foods are not different from other foods. This is contrary to the belief of a vast majority of consumers that GE foods are definitely different from normal ones. The US position seems to be dictated by the apprehension that consumers in other countries may reject GM/GE foods from the US and it is reprehensible to force bodies like Codex to adopt the view of one country, how ever mighty it may be, that there are no differences between GM/GE foods and other foods. It is conveniently ignored that such a stand is contrary to scientific fact, USDA organic rules and existing FDA policy allowing for voluntary labeling.

The efforts of the US government are orchestrated by the GM food lobby in that country which, probably is concerned about the fate of GM foods from the country when exported to other countries where they are not considered safe. As most of the foods manufactured in the US contain one or the other ingredient originating from a GM food source, there could be real danger of the food industry losing its preeminent position in the country. If the US is able to get its way at the Codex level, other countries must join together to advice their food industry to insert a declaration in the label of all foods manufactured by them stating that they do not contain GM food ingredients. Sure no one should have any
objection to this practice which will serve the same purpose.

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