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US & Canada Again Derail Global Rules for GE Food Labeling

GLOBE AND MAIL (Canada)
5/3/01
National DATELINE: Ottawa

Nigeria pleads for labels on GM foods
MARK MacKINNON

Note: The Codex Alimentarius (the WTO's Food Standards Setting Body)
committee on labeling just concluded 4 days of meetings in Ottawa, Canada,
with most nations of the world pushing for mandatory labeling of GE foods
and crops. These mandatory labeling rules were blocked as in previous years
by the world's three largest GE crop and food producers, the US, Canada, and
Argentina. The next Codex labeling meeting will take place in Halifax, Nova
Scootia next year.

OTTAWA--Third World countries pleaded yesterday with Canada and the
United States to label the genetically modified foods they export, saying
they won't be able to cope if the foods prove dangerous. Noting that many
scientists are worried that the human food supply could be contaminated by
the proliferation of genetically modified crops, Nigeria asked a United
Nations body meeting in Ottawa yesterday to introduce strict labelling rules
quickly.

If it ever turns out that GM foods do present a health hazard, African
nations will be hardest hit, Nigerian delegate Tseaa Shambe told the UN
Codex Alimentarius (Latin for food labelling) conference.

"We in Africa have got poor hospitals," he said. "We plead with the
Codex committee to take this issue [GM food-labelling] seriously."

Other developing nations, particularly India, echoed Nigeria's
impassioned push for comprehensive, mandatory labelling of all GM foods.
However, nations that produce such foods -- notably Canada, the United
States and Argentina -- stalled progress toward an cut off the labelling
debate early in the afternoon, promising a longer debate at the next
meeting, a year from now in Halifax. This year's conference began on
Tuesday and runs until tomorrow, but yesterday was the only opportunity to
debate the labelling of GM foods.

Progress on the issue has been incremental since the mid-1990s.

Canada, the United States and Argentina, who produce the vast majority
of the world's genetically modified commercial crops, disagree with the idea
that foods should be labelled simply because they were genetically modified,
arguing that labels are necessary only if the foods pose a proven risk.
Canada has a voluntary labelling scheme, allowing companies to decide for
themselves whether to tell consumers the product has been altered. However,
a recent poll by Pollara Inc. and Earnscliffe Research and Communications
found that 94 per cent of Canadians believe the government should order
companies to label GM products.

Yesterday, Canada and the United States successfully pushed to add the
term "modern biotechnology" to the list of possible labels under a future
international agreement. Greenpeace Canada campaigner Holly Penfound
slammed the move as an attempt to confuse consumers who are wary of foods
that have been genetically modified. "It's just another attempt to water
down labels so they won't be meaningful to the consumer."

Canada and the United States were also successful in adding the words
"fairer practices in food trade" to the list of objectives, a move that some
fear will ensure that the World Trade Organization becomes final arbiter of
disputes regarding labelling of GM foods.

Just before debate was cut off, the Dutch delegation slammed the
slow-moving Codex process, saying the body should be "more ambitious," and
focus not on trade considerations, but consumer needs.

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