The International Association of Consumer Food Organisations(IACFO) is calling on a committee of the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, meeting in Halifax, Canada, on 6-10 May, to improve international food labelling standards.
The IACFO said that improved standards wouldencourage governments to require companies to provide consumers with better information on ingredients, nutritional values and processing methods.
The UN Codex Alimentarius Commission's (Codex) Committee on Food Labellingdevelops international rules used by the WHO to settle trade disputes. National laws that exceed Codex health and consumerprotection standards, without justification deemed acceptable by the WTO,can be declared illegal barriers to trade.
"Codex standards can act as a 'ceiling, not a floor,'" stated Bill Jeffery,National Co-ordinator for Canada of the US-based Center for Science in the PublicInterest, a founding member of IACFO.
"International standards must beset high to allow governments to issue consumer protection rules withoutfear of being challenged at the WTO. Yet all too often, multinational foodcompanies pressure governments to base international standards on the lowestcommon denominator."
The meeting of the Codex Committee will be attended by nearly 300 delegatesfrom more than 40 countries. The agenda includes setting standards for thelabelling of percentages of major ingredients of processed foods, genetically engineered foods, organic livestock products, nutrition information (including the amounts of saturated fat, cholesterol,sodium, sugars and fibre when manufacturers make nutrition claims) and health-related marketing claims.
The IACFO is specifically calling on the Codex Committee to set standards thatwould encourage governments to require percentage ingredient labelling formajor ingredients in processed foods.
"We hope that delegations from the European Union, Australia, New Zealand,and Thailand, which already have percentage ingredient labelling laws on thebooks, will support a Codex standard that would allow those laws to remainin effect without fear of being challenged as trade barriers at the WTO,"Jeffery said.
IACFO is also calling on the Committee to issue standards that wouldencourage governments to require mandatory nutrition information on allfoods, require appropriate labelling of genetically engineered foods andestablish strict pre-market approval requirements for health claims.
"It's ridiculous that a candy bar in Australia discloses the percentage ofchocolate contained in the product, in the United States discloses theamount of saturated fat, and in Europe would be required to disclose if itcontained any genetically engineered ingredients," said Bruce Silverglade,president of IACFO. "Consumers around the world should receive the sameinformation on food labels."
IACFO is an alliance of independent, non-profit consumer food organisationsincluding the Center for Science in the Public Interest (with offices inOttawa and Washington, D.C.), the Food Commission (UK), the Tokyo-basedJapan Offspring Fund, and the Consumers' Association of Singapore. IACFO isan officially recognised non-governmental observer at Codex meetings. The Codex Committee on Food Labelling will meet in full session at theHalifax World Trade and Convention Centre, Canada, from 6-10 May 2002.