For Immediate Release Contact: Amy Wolfcale
Consumers Urge U.N. Panel to Require Food Labeling
Labels on Genetically Engineered Foods Promote Consumer Health and Safety
Yonkers, New York -A little-known United Nations food agency will convene in
Canada next week to decide what consumers worldwide can learn from the
labels on the food they eat. At the meeting, Consumers Union of the U.S. will join with
Consumers International, a federation of 226 consumer organizations in 105
countries, in calling for measures to require labels on genetically engineered
While the highly technical proposals before the agency, known as The Codex
Alimentarius Commission, the U.N. body that sets international food standards,
usually attract little international attention, the food labeling measure set
for debate next week (May 25-29) in Ottawa has mobilized consumer groups
worldwide because labeling has become a major international issue of food
safety and consumer choice. At the meeting, The Codex Committee on Food
Labeling will consider adopting a proposal that "all foods that are or contain genetically
modified organisms shall be labeled."
Codex can only consider labeling genetically engineered foods from a food
safety standpoint, but consumer advocates point out that adopting the proposal
will be an important first step toward allowing consumers across the global
marketplace to make their own choices about genetically modified products for reasons that
range from allergy management to religious and philosophical preferences.
At the Codex meeting, the Consumers International delegation will advocate
labeling not because consumers oppose genetically engineered food-many polls
show they do not-but because consumers have the right to know-and polls show
they want-label information to make informed choices about what they are
Surveys of consumers in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia show that
while many consumers say they are not against eating genetically engineered
foods, the vast majority clearly want such food to be labeled. In the U.S. alone, a 1997
survey revealed that 93 percent of Americans support labeling.
Consumers International will carry this message to the U.S. and Canadian
delegations to Codex, which have not thus far not supported the labeling
proposal. A number of European delegations are already strong proponents of
labeling and are expected to support the proposal.
Health and safety issues first attracted many consumer groups to the labeling
issue. Genetically altered products may sometimes cause unanticipated toxic
effects, as happened with L-tryptophan, a dietary supplement made by genetically engineered bacteria
that caused severe side effects in some who took it. Eventually, the L-tryptophan
incident left 1500 permanently disabled and claimed 37 lives.
Those who suffer from food allergies-up to 2% of the adult
population-have a strong stake in the labeling debate because some genetically engineered foods
can cause allergic reactions, which sometimes can be life-threatening.
When a seed company transferred genes from a Brazil nut to soybeans to improve
protein content, scientists concluded that consumers allergic to nuts might suffer
adverse reactions from the modified soybeans. The potential exists that
transferred genes could bring along unknown allergies, too---and that
unsuspecting consumers might react adversely. Without labeling information,
consumers cannot know what caused such a reaction or avoid future exposure-a
particularly important concern for parents whose children are subject to
serious food allergies.
"Some consumers have serious medical reasons for wanting genetically
engineered foods to be labeled, while millions of others want labeling information for
important religious, ethical, or environmental reasons," says Julian Edwards,
Director General of Consumers International.
While safety is the principal reason why CI says Codex must require
labeling of GEFs, Edwards points out that labeling foods as to their genetically
engineered origins also will allow market forces to work. "Consumers have many
reasons for choosing to buy, or not to buy, genetically engineered foods." he said. "
Labeling is the key that permits people to make informed buying decisions."
Consumers International emphasizes that labeling allows people who want to buy
GEFs that taste better or have other desirable qualities to make that choice,
and it allows people who would rather not buy GEFs, for a variety of
reasons, to exercise their preference as well. Reasons that consumers might not buy GEFs
include safety concerns, awareness that some genetically engineered crops have
adverse environmental impacts, religious dietary restrictions, philosophical
objections to the transfer of genes between animals and plants, and myriad
other personal and cultural concerns.
"In a fair marketplace, consumers make their choices based on what
matters to them, they are not denied a choice because government doesn't trust them to
choose wisely," Edwards said.
For more information, please visit Consumers International on the web at:
www.consumersinternational.org/campaign/codex The site carries:
Consumers International's response to the Codex Alimentarius proposal on
labeling of genetically engineered food background information on Codex
Alimentarius and genetically engineered foods, and Why We Need Labeling of
Genetically Engineered Food, Halloran & Hansen, 1998
Please call Amy Wolfcale at Consumers Union of the U.S., 914-378-2437 for
Independent national survey data
Selected bibliography of scientific articles on genetically engineered food
Interview opportunities with members of the Consumers International delegation
to Codex and science policy staff at Consumers Union of the U.S.
CONTACT: Amy Wolfcale
ATTENTION: Food, Science, Business, and Biotechnology Editors and Reporters
PRESS CONFERENCE CALL
INFORMATION ON GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOODS AND WHY U.N. PANEL SHOULD ADOPT
Background for Codex Meetings May 26-29
Senior members of the Consumers International delegation to the Codex Food
Labeling Committee and food policy experts from Consumers Union, U.S. will
participate in a conference call with members of the press to discuss next
week's meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the U.N. body that sets
international food standards. Consumers International will serve as a
delegation to the meetings and urge other national delegations to support a
proposal that would require labeling of genetically engineered foods.
WHEN: Thursday, May 21, 1998 at 1 pm Eastern.
Diane McCrea-Operational Head of the Consumers International Delegation to the
Julian Edwards-Director General, Consumers International
Lisa Lefferts-Member, Consumers International Delegation
Dr. Edward Groth III, Director of Technical Policy and Public Service,
After brief presentations, members of the press will have the opportunity
questions of participants
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Call 1-800-474-4099 any time in the thirty minutes prior
to 1:00 p.m. EST and Request Conference # 4529
Note to Canadian Callers: We expect the toll-free number to enable you to
participate in this call. However, if you experience problems, dial 203-830-