The US government is at it again!

posted in: Science | 13

…. or is it?

In Proposed US law to mandate GMOs?, I posted the actual text of the The Global Food Security Act of 2009, S.384, introduced by Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Robert Casey (D-PA), in response to authors of blog posts and petitions that didn’t quite seem to have read it before getting all excited about it.

The next big GMO scandal involves recommended changes to the Codex Alimentarius Commission of the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme. All relevant documents have been posted by the Codex Committee on Food Labeling (CCFL), apparently unknown to those who would have us up in alarm.

The Institute for Responsible Technology (founded by Jeffery Smith) wants us to pay attention to their Action Alert – Codex Conference (emphasis original):

Please send this URGENT message to US Government leaders to protect your right to know which foods are made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs)…

They must stop US negotiators at an international (Codex) conference from May 3-7, from pushing an agenda that could make it difficult for anyone, anywhere in the world to label foods as genetically modified (GM) food—or even make non-GMO claims on their product’s label.

A petition on CREDO Action Network is even more alarming (emphasis mine):

…the current U.S. draft position paper declares that mandatory labeling laws such as they have in Europe are “false, misleading or deceptive.” If the U.S. succeeds in writing the proposed Codex regulations, any attempts here in the U.S. to label foods as genetically engineered, whether voluntary or by law, would become far more difficult.

What’s actually “misleading or deceptive” is the way the US recommendations are presented by these two groups. Ironically, the US actually seems to be recommending most recently that nothing be changed at all, in Government Comments at Step 3 (pdf). The US recommendations, presented 3-7 May 2010, as “Proposed draft recommendations for the labelling of foods and food ingredients obtained through certain techniques of genetic modification/genetic engineering”, are as follows:

We strongly encourage CCFL to discontinue further discussion of the provisions in Appendix VII of ALINORM 09/32/22 so that the Committee may focus its resources on the agenda items dealing with the implementation of the WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health, an agenda item of immense public health significance and directly related to the mandate of Codex—to protect the health of consumers.

Why would the US want the Codex Committee to stop working on plans to make rules for mandatory labeling of GMOs? In short, member countries have such different regulatory frameworks and such different ideas that it’s unlikely that any consensus will be reached. In fact, no consensus has been reached in over a decade of discussion on this topic, and by Codex rules, where there is no basis for consensus, discussion should end. This is laid out in full in the above referenced document. Other countries and some other groups put out Comments at Step 3, which you can find at the Codex Committee on Food Labeling website. Perhaps it is inappropriate for the US to propose that discussion be stopped, but stopping the discussion is far from being the same as banning labeling of GMOs.

Did the US ever propose that voluntary labels be prohibited? Nope. They did advocate that labels “indicate that foods derived from GM/GE were not in any way different or less safe due to their method of production provided that they had undergone safety assessments consistent with relevant Codex guidelines.” This is consistent with other labeling requirements in the CODEX and other labeling sources. A voluntary label that meets this requirement would be similar to rBST labels in the US that state that milk from cows that have not been treated with rBST is no different than milk from cows that have been treated with rBST.

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Anastasia is Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc. and the Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. She has a PhD in genetics with a minor in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Her favorite produce is artichokes!