Codex labelling committee to discuss GM, organics

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gm food, Genetically modified food, Codex alimentarius, Food, Gm

The agenda for the 35th meeting of the Codex Committee
on Food Labelling includes items on two of the most emotive issues
for consumers and industry - genetically modified foods and organic

The meeting, taking place in Ottawa, Canada, from April 30 to May 4, forms part of an ongoing programme to create international food safety standards under the Codex Alimentarius, a body set up by the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the World Health Organisation. The establishment of a taskforce on GM food in 1999 led to the establishment of four key documents and consensus on the principles of traceability, but labelling has been on the table at Codex since 1988 and remains a contentious issue. In particular, delegates at next month's meeting will discuss a draft amendment to the General Standards for Labelling of Prepackaged Foods​ with respect to definitions for foods obtained through genetic modification or genetic engineering. This draft is presently at step seven. In the 2005 committee reporter, the definitions for the terms 'food and food ingredients obtained through certain techniques of genetic modification / genetic engineering', 'organism', 'genetically modified / engineered organism', and 'modern biotechnology'. But it said: "The terminology used in this section on definitions should not determine the terminology which is appropriate for use on food labels." ​ At step four and also up for debate are the Proposed Guidelines for the Labelling for Foods and Food Ingredients Obtained through Certain Techniques of Genetic Modification/Genetic Engineering: Labelling Provisions​. At the IFT conference last July Peggy Rochette, director of international policy at the Food Products Association (FPA) told delegates that global agreement was a long way off. "This underscores the long standing differences in global views for even the most basic approach to food labelling,"​ she said. A USDA report set out three potential scenarios for GM food in the year 2015. The rosy view is that biotechnology is embraced globally, along the lines of the US's science-based approach. A second view, called 'continental islands', sees GM food products being traded universally within continents, but without any real global harmonisation. The third view is that 'biotech goes niche'. In other words, the barriers that currently inhibit the global trade of GM food products, be they regulatory or consumer-based, are never overcome. With respect to organics, items of the agenda are the draft revised annex for the Guidelines for the Production, Processing, Labelling and Marketing of Organically Produced Foods​ (part one and part two of table 3); government comments on table 3; and a proposed draft revision to annex two concerning natural sodium nitrate; and a proposed draft amendment on the addition of ethylene. Delegates will also discuss a proposed draft definition of advertising in relation to nutrition and health claims: "Advertising: any representation to the public, by any means other than a label, that is intended or is likely to influence and shape attitude, beliefs and behaviours in order to promote directly or indirectly the sale of the food."​ Health claims is a particularly pertinent issue in the EU at present, given the new legislation on health and nutrition claims. Unlike the new legislation Codex does not have the force of law behind it. However it is used as a reference point for countries that are looking at revising or creating legislation. Moreover, it is also used as a point of reference by the World Trade Organisation when a dispute arises between two members. Other items on the agenda include a proposed draft amendment to the General Standards for Labelling of Prepackaged Foods: Quantitative Declaration of Ingredients​. A working group on the proposal will also convene as part of the meeting.

Related topics: Policy

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