This should make a big difference:
"So, in fact the foods that are on the market now have gone through a system that is almost the same as what is now being considered as internationally agreed standards,"
For a comprehensive review of the reality of GM food testing see:
World guideline for pre-market genetically modified food testing agreed
GENEVA : Agreement has been reached on the first global guidelines requiring countries to test the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods before they come on the market, the Codex Alimentarius Commission said on Friday.
The "in principle" decision was taken by the voluntary code's 165 member states, representing 98 percent of the world population, at a week-long meeting in Geneva.
But Codex, a joint body of the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), failed to agree on GMO labelling due to deep divisions, officials said.
It did approve a series of new maximum levels of environmental contaminants - including lead, cadmium and the carcinogen aflatoxin - found in fruit juices, cereals and milk.
"The Codex Commission agreed in principle that the safety of food derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should be tested and approved by governments prior to entering the market," a final statement said.
"In particular, GMO foods should be tested for their potential to cause allergic reactions," it added.
The consensus decision, which comes amid European resistance to GM crops because of public concerns over their impact on health and the environment, is expected to lead to tighter US safety procedures to protect export market share.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO director-general and a medical doctor, said in a statement: "This is the first global step toward the safety assessment of genetically modified foods."
DETAILED GUIDELINES IN 2003: Alan Randell, secretary of the Codex, expressed satisfaction with the GM decision at a news conference: "To get this over the hump at the first go is really quite an achievement - and it was done in only two years. So it is very good progress."
A task force should have the detailed GM testing guidelines ready in 2003 for the next major Codex talks, officials said. "It is clear that the task force in Codex working with this will finish its work in 2003...It will be up to countries to implement the guidelines in their legislation," said Dr Jorgen Schlundt, WHO food safety coordinator.
"The real issue is you need to have a safety assessment system so that each product before it gets on the market will be tested...and then you can ensure that it is safe enough to go on the market," he added.
The principle of "substantial equivalence" - comparing a genetically modified product to a non-GM equivalent - is to be a "starting point" for safety assessment, according to Schlundt.
Asked about products already on the market, he said they had gone through a safety assessment at the national level.
"So, in fact the foods that are on the market now have gone through a system that is almost the same as what is now being considered as internationally agreed standards," Schlundt said.
The Commission agreed new guidelines for organic livestock production, backing the use of natural breeding methods and progressive elimination of the use of certain veterinary drugs including antibiotics, according to the statement.
"(Organic) Animals should mainly be fed with high quality organic feed, not meat and bone meal, although fish and milk products are acceptable. The use of growth hormones is not permitted," it said.
Randell, asked about a ban on meat and bone meal feed among BSE fears, replied: "It is coming, but we don't have it yet".
The Codex Alimentarius - which means food law in Latin - meets every two years to set standards for the international food trade sector, which is valued at $400 billion annually.
Its standards serve as benchmarks in disputes brought to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to help decide whether a country's safety standards are a disguised barrier to imports.-