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CU calls on US to support Genetically Modified Food Labeling Agreement

US stands nearly alone in opposition at recent international meeting

May 10, 2010

Consumers Union Calls on U.S. to Support Genetically Modified Food Labeling Agreement
U.S. Stands Nearly Alone in Opposition at Recent International Meeting

Yonkers, NY—Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, today called on the Obama Administration to endorse a compromise on guidelines for labeling of genetically modified (GM)/genetically engineered (GE) food, that was supported by the overwhelming majority of nations during international negotiations last week in Canada. Consumers Union again expressed serious concerns that the current U.S. position in opposition to the compromise on GE/GM labeling could create major problems in the long term for U.S. and foreign producers who want to label their products as free of GM/GE ingredients.
At a meeting that concluded last Friday in Quebec of the Codex Committee on Food Labeling (CCFL), an arm of Codex Alimentarius, the United Nations food standards agency, the U.S. fought for a guideline that Codex would not “suggest or imply that GM/GE foods are in any way different from other foods.” The U.S. also refused to agree to comprise language stating that Codex “recognizes that each country can adopt different approaches regarding labeling” of GM/GE foods. However the U.S. failed to rally support for its views. Out of the approximately 50 countries present for the discussion, the U.S. was supported in its position by only three other countries: Mexico, Costa Rica, and Argentina. The CCFL Chair decided that the guideline should be mediated in the near future in Brussels, with Ghana chairing the meeting, so that the countries would could try and reach a consensus.

The U.S. opposes any draft Codex guideline that explicitly recognizes that there are differences between GE/GM food and non-GE/GM, or that states that countries can adopt different approaches to labeling of GE food, in line with existing Codex guidance. The U.S. position states that mandatory labeling of food as GE “is likely to create the impression that the labeled food is in some way different” and would therefore be “false, misleading or deceptive.”

“The current U.S. position could potentially create significant problems for food producers in the U.S., and worldwide, who wish to indicate that their products contain no GE ingredients, as well as for countries that require labels on GE/GM food,” said Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, and the lead spokesperson for the 220-member Consumers International at the meeting. “The U.S. government clearly recognizes that there are differences between GE and non-GE food–USDA organic rules specifically state that GE seed cannot be used in organic production. The FDA has also taken the position that within the U.S., voluntary labeling as to whether or not a product contains GE ingredients is permissible. It is unclear why the U.S. has taken a contrary position on GM/GE food at Codex.”

Codex guidelines are widely adopted by developing countries and are used to settle trade challenges at the World Trade Organization (WTO). “The U.S. position at this international meeting is not consistent with the U.S. position at home. We urge the U.S. to bring its position at Codex into alignment with domestic policy and allow the compromise to go forward,” said Dr. Hansen.

Prior to the meeting, Consumers Union and more than 80 farmers, public health, environmental, and organic food organizations sent a letter to Michael R. Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Food at the FDA, and to Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary at the USDA, expressing serious concerns with the U.S. position. FDA and USDA are the lead agencies representing the U.S. government at Codex. A copy of the letter can be found online: http://www.consumersunion.org/pdf/Codex-comm-ltr-0410.pdf. In addition, more than 111,000 concerned citizens signed a petition, urging officials to change their position. A recent Consumers Union poll found that two-thirds of consumers would be concerned if they thought that GE/GM ingredients were in organic food.

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Naomi Starkman, 917.539.3924-c