U.S. Pressure on South Africa at Codex Quashes Hopes For Mandatory GM Food Labeling in 2008 According to the Natural Solutions Foundation

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South Africa's strong objection to food containing any unlabeled Genetically Modified (GM) ingredients was registered in a formal document presented to the Codex Committee on Food Labeling (Ottawa) for which the Natural Solutions Foundation provided technical support for the document. The United States, which prohibits labeling GM foods, immediately demanded that the South African (SA) government in Pretoria withdraw its Codex submission. Bowing to U.S. pressure, SA formally withdrew its paper defeating the possibility of CCFL approval of mandatory GM labeling for at least another year.

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The U.S. pressured South Africa to prevent her expression of concerns about GM crops during an international food trade meeting. Yesterday South Africa (SA) submitted CRD 21, a strongly worded statement arguing for mandatory labeling of all genetically modified (GM) and similar foods during the Codex Alimentarius Committee on Food Labeling (CCFL, Ottawa Canada, April 28-May 2, 2008). The Natural Solutions Foundation opposes GM Food provided technical support for this document. Prior to its submission, and in violation of the stated Codex principles respecting diversity of opinion fostering consensus among nations, the U.S. pressured the South African government demanding that CRD 21 be withdrawn from the Codex process although its provisions are consistent with SA law and Codex texts and principles.

Bowing to U.S. pressures, CRD 21 was formally withdrawn by SA at the opening of today's session. The meant that the CCFL meeting concluded without any resolution of the mandatory labeling issue for GM

CRD 21 made several important points in favor of mandatory GM food labeling: 1. Codex says GM labeling must be provided when ethical or religious scruples demand it as an OLF (Other Legitimate Factor): 2. Scientific and environmental concerns about the safety of GM organisms are far from settled so both Codex' Precautionary Principle and its mandate to protect the health of consumers, should trigger mandatory labeling: 3. GM foods, their components and impacts may vary widely from conventional foods and are not well characterized: consuming them constitutes an experimental feeding experiment. Under Codex and other international standards as well as the domestic laws of most countries, human experimentation without fully informed consent is prohibited. Consumers must be given full information about GM food so they can chose whether or not to participate in this experiment; 4. Without accurate organism-specific GM labeling, traceability, epidemiology and corporate liability become meaningless, abrogating scientific requirements and consumer rights.

The U.S. and its allies, including Argentina, Mexico, Columbia, the Philippines and Canada and others expressed their opposition to any labeling for GM foods. However, in an early morning African strategy session on the day of discussion, more than 20 countries including Ghana, Kenya, Egypt, Sudan, Swaziland, Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa agreed that they would pursue mandatory GM labeling strongly to satisfy their concerns about GM and protect all consumers' "right to know". Natural Solutions Foundation attended this meeting as an observer. CRD 21 was a key element in this strategy.

The U.S. has strongly supported the concept of making unlabeled GM food the international trade standard, numerous other countries have struggled against that position in the Codex Committee on Food Labeling (CCFL) and elsewhere for nearly 20 years. Norway, the 27-member European Union, Switzerland, Japan, Russia and the majority of African countries have either imposed moratoriums on the importation and growing of GM foods, favor mandatory labeling, or both. Since U.S. policy prohibits any identification of GM foods, this has set the U.S. at direct odds with many of their trading partners on this issue. The African bloc anticipated that this year's CCFL would finally resolve the problem and allow global mandatory GM labeling. The U.S. pressure on SA ended that hope for 2008 according to the Natural Solutions Foundation.

The U.S. is a major source of GM-containing foods: 75% or more of all prepared and prepackaged foods in the U.S. contain GM ingredients.

United States GM policy derives from a 1992 Executive Order signed by then-President George H. W. Bush, which declared that GM organisms, although patentable, are equivalent to unmodified organisms. As a consequence, U.S. FDA prohibits GM labeling because, as the U.S. Delegate stated at a CCFL Working Group on labeling GM foods (Oslo, 2007), consumers who know that their food contains GM components will overwhelmingly reject the food in favor of natural foods. FDA stated at that meeting that giving consumers accurate information about GM foods would be "false and misleading" since there is administratively no difference between conventional and GM foods. Other countries find this troublesome.

SA's support of mandatory labeling is supported by the long-held positions of Swaziland, Norway, Norway, Switzerland, Japan, Kenya, Mauritius, the 27-member EU, Ghana, Russia and others. Although the voices for mandatory species-specific GM labeling were strong, there were several concerns. For example, Uganda's Codex Delegate was denied a Canadian visa twice to attend CCFL this year and was therefore not present. Uganda has a moratorium on the use of GM foods. Benin also has a moratorium on GM foods. Days before she was to attend the Ottawa CCFL meeting, Benin's delegate was denied funding by the Codex Trust Fund to attend this meeting.

As Michael Hansen of Consumers International said, "Labeling is an essential part of risk assessment. It is especially important for developing nations since they generally lack the laboratory infrastructure necessary to determine whether foods and seeds contain GM components. Developing nations like Benin, Zimbabwe, Uganda and others which have passed moratoriums on growing and importing GM foods and crops because of their concerns on the potential health, environmental and other dangers of GM organisms in sharp contrast to the U.S. which forbids labeling of GM foods, products or crops."

No safety testing is required by the U.S. before patented organisms become part of the food chain.

According to the Natural Solutions Foundation, in addition to both potential and proven health/environmental dangers of GM organisms, such as permanent male sterility from a corn type which produces its own spermicide, immunity and fertility problems and new types of allergic triggers (which may be lethal), environmental hazards (e.g., neighboring crop contamination), "super weeds" and ethical issues are grave concerns to both consumers and policy makers in many parts of the world.

Beyond consumer education and risk assessment, GM foods provoke additional controversy according to the Natural Solutions Foundation. Zimbabwe contends that the provision of GM food to Africa is part of a genocidal strategy. Zambia and other countries reject U.S.-provided GM food despite widespread hunger among their people and Japan recently stated that it would no longer buy U.S. wheat if commercialization of GM wheat proceeded. Japan is the largest customer of U.S. wheat. The U.S. has, however, decided to proceed with such commercialization. Almost all corn, soy and rape seed (canola oil), as well as cotton (and hence, cotton seed oil used in foods) in the U.S. are currently GM crops.

Codex Alimentarius, a United Nations program jointly administered by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), was founded in 1962 and began work in 1963 setting standards and guidelines for all aspects of the international trade of food "from farm to fork". Because of the general global perception that the science and standards of the U.S. are exceptionally high, and of its global importance, the U.S. is a dominant force in the decisions of Codex and generally prevails in having its positions adopted. The resistance provided by anti-GM nations is unique in the working of Codex.

Natural Solutions Foundation Medical Director Rima E. Laibow, MD provided technical support to SA in the creation of CRD 21. The Natural Solutions Foundation, a not for profit humanitarian NGO, attends selected Codex meetings and offers delegations and nations support for pro-health actions and strategies at meetings and through personal contact with Ministers of Health and other decision-makers in their home countries. All of their work is pro bono. In the United States, the Natural Solutions Foundation's websites, http://www.HealthFreedomUSA.org and http://www.GlobalHealthFreedom.org offer health freedom advocates continuing up to the minute information about health threats and Codex Alimentarius through their free Health Freedom eAlerts.

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Ralph Fucetola, JD

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