US fails to dump international GM labeling guideline
By Julia Crosfield
This article appeared in the June issue of The Non-GMO Report, www.non-gmoreport.com.
The United States tried and failed to dump an international guideline for labeling genetically modified food at a United Nations food standards committee held May 1 5 in Ottawa, Canada.
The labeling guideline suggests a minimum standard of GMO labeling for countries to adopt. "Mandatory GMO labeling is essential for consumers right to know and to track any unexpected health effects," says Michael Hansen, Research Associate at the Consumers Union, who represented Consumers International at the committee.
Danielle Schor, from the US delegation, argues, "because there is no consensus on the guidelines, and the fact that the guidelines have been under consideration for many years with no consensus, the US position was that work on this document be discontinued or suspended until such time as an international consensus on the labeling of biotech foods appears to be possible." The irony is that the US is the main opponent of biotech labeling and lead the minority camp trying to prevent a final guideline.
After failing to dump the guideline, the US had nearly won a compromise that would shelve discussions on GM labeling for three or five years. Consumers International challenged the US position and many countries followed. Fourteen European Community countries and 15 other nations requested continued discussions for a labeling guideline, which left the US and seven supporting countries in a minority. If the US had succeeded in dumping or shelving the guideline, it would have empowered pro-biotech countries to challenge other countries' right to label transgenic products.
Labeling enables concerned consumers to choose non-GM products, and so provides a market for non-GM farmers and food producers. Many American consumers do not want GMOs, and yet there is still no mandatory labeling of biotech products in the US to allow consumer choice.
While the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan have mandatory labeling of biotech food, according to Hansen, American consumers are unlikely to see GM products labeled under the current administration.
At the end of the five-day meeting in Ottawa, Canada, the guideline remains in draft form, but work on it will continue until the next meeting in 2007. This year a group led by Norway, Argentina and Ghana will gather information on countries’ experiences with GM labeling such as: the kind of laws, how they are implemented, and what the labels look like. This should help discussions to move forward. Also, the guideline, although in draft form, still has international legal status and offers countries with GM labeling some protection from a World Trade Organization suit.