Open letter to G.W. Bush/New UN standards on GM foods (1/7/2003)

1.Open letter to G.W. Bush
2.New UN standards on GM foods
1.Open letter to G.W. Bush
(the letter can be signed by clicking on the link:
http://greens-efa.org/pdf/events/LabelGMFood/index_EN.php/ )
The Honourable George W. Bush
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Tuesday, 1st July 2003

Dear Mr President,

The European Union is about to approve laws on the mandatory labelling of genetically modified food and feed. The idea behind these laws is both deeply democratic and market oriented; to let people make their own choice. When the laws come into force Europeans will be able to make an informed choice. When they choose a product to buy they will see if it contains GM ingredients or not.

Ninety four per cent of Europeans want their food labelled. This you might expect. But what may come as a surprise to you is that almost as many Americans want labelling of GM food * 93 per cent, according to an ABC News telephone poll from June 2001. And, according to the same survey, 52 per cent believe that genetically altered foods are unsafe. Unfortunately, Americans do not have the choice to either eat or avoid GM food. This is a choice that you should give them.

As Europeans we share your concern for poverty and starvation in Africa. We welcome your commitment to increasing aid and look forward to the day when America will bring its spending on overseas development assistance up to * or even beyond * the European average. This will be of much greater help to developing countries than the GM food you currently send them.

On the subject of Africa, Mr President, you should stop making false claims on behalf of the bio-tech industry. You assert that a reluctance to grow GM crops in Africa is responsible for famine there. This is simply not true, and the best proof of this comes from your own country. The US grows the highest percentage of GM crops of any country in the world. Yet 5.6 million American adults and 2.7 million children are classified as 'hungry' by your national Census Bureau. 20 million adults and 13 million children additionally live in households classified as "food insecure". The fight against hunger, it would appear, is dependent less on GM crops than on good politics.

Mr President your country is called the 'land of the free'. But to be free means to have a choice, and only informed people can make a good choice. In a spirit of solidarity we believe that Americans should have the same right as Europeans will now have under our GM labelling laws * the right to choose. Give your people a choice, Mr Bush: label GM food.
2. New UN standards on GM foods a victory for consumers
Rome  - The Codex Alimentarius Commission, the UN food standards agency today adopted three sets of standards on safety of genetically modified food (GMOs) that support strong regulations for these foods.

'These standards are a tremendous victory for consumers, for science, for good regulation and for common sense. The food safety officials from dozens of countries who negotiated these documents did critical work on a highly polarised issue,' stated Julian Edwards, Director-General of Consumers International, which represents more than 250 organisations in 110 countries

The three documents provide guidelines for assessing the safety of GM food plants, such as maize, corn and soybeans, and of GM microorganisms, which are used in beer and cheese production. They provide pages of detailed procedures for determining if a GM food contains new toxins or allergens, is altered nutritionally, or exhibits unexpected effects. They establish a baseline standard that a GMO should be ‘as safe as the conventional counterpart.’ They also endorse the use of ‘product tracing’ as a tool of risk management.

Codex standards are important because they can be used to settle trade disputes.  The USA has just filed a challenge against the European Union (EU) at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on genetically modified food.

Consumers International sees the Codex standards as strengthening EU countries that seek to regulate GMO safety and to establish traceability systems that will allow tracking in commerce.  By 2004, 35 countries (including China, Japan, Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand) covering half the world's population, will require mandatory government safety assessments before GMOs are allowed on the market.  However the USA prefers a system of voluntary consultations about safety, where the company developing the seed ultimately decides whether it is safe.

Michael Hansen, representing Consumers International at the Rome meeting, says: `These documents provide a legal basis under WTO rules for the EU's strong safety regulations for GMOs. They explicitly state that a premarket safety assessment should be undertaken.'
Consumers International views the clause and related footnote on product tracing as a legal justification for the EU traceability system. This was one of the most hotly contested portions of the text. The final text was agreed a year ago at a meeting in Yokohama of the Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Food Derived from Biotechnology.

The documents address several key controversies about GM food. They: state that the transfer of genes from commonly allergenic foods  (e.g. peanuts) should be 'avoided' unless it can be proven that the transferred gene does not produce an allergen advise against using any antibiotic resistance marker genes in GMOs that create resistance to `clinically usedí antibiotics, a large and growing problem.

The US has said it is challenging the slow pace of the EU's approval system at the WTO, not the system itself. But the US has criticised the EU labelling and traceability proposals on many occasions. It is not yet known exactly what issues the US will raise when it argues its case at the WTO.

Notes to editors

The Codex Alimentarius is a joint effort of the UN World Health Organization and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The Codex Alimentarius Commission, its governing body, meets once every two years, and is meeting from 30 June to 7 July 2003 in Rome.

Standards adopted by the Codex Alimentarius are automatically considered to be based on science, and are therefore immune from challenge at the World Trade Organization. Codex generally seeks to adopt standards by consensus, although it can vote on standards as well.

Codex standards are developed by special committees which generally take many years to develop a final text. Food safety officials from dozens of countries, as well as official 'observers' from industry and non-governmental organisations, participate in committee negotiations. When a committee reaches consensus on a text, it is forwarded to the Codex Alimentarius Commission for final adoption.

The three documents on GMOs were developed by a special Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology, which has been hosted by the government of Japan. Work on the three documents began in 2000, and was completed in March 2003. The documents address many contentious aspects of policy on GMOs.

The three recently approved documents, with some of the important clauses, are as follows:

Principles for the Risk Assessment for Foods Derived from Modern Biotechnology
12.  A pre-market safety assessment should be undertaken... and be performed on a case-by-case basis.
16.  Risk management measures... should be proportional to the risk... taking into account other legitimate factors.
18.  Risk managers should take into account the uncertainties identified...
19.  Risk management measures may include, as appropriate, food labelling, conditions for marketing approvals and post-market monitoring.
21.  Specific tools may be needed to facilitate... risk management measures. These may include... the tracing of products...
Footnote 9.  It is recognised that there are other applications of product tracing. These applications should be consistent with the provisions of the SPS and TBT Agreements.

Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant-DNA Plants
13.  The concept of substantial equivalence is a key step... However it is  not a safety assessment in itself; rather it represents the starting point...
14.  Unintended effects... may also arise... Safety assessment should... reduce the possibility that a food derived from a recombinant-DNA plant would have an unexpected, adverse effect on human health.
21.  The goal of each safety assessment is to provide assurance, in the light of the best available scientific knowledge, that the food does not cause harm when prepared, used and/or eaten according to its intended use. The expected endpoint of such as assessment will be a conclusion regarding whether the new food is a safe as the conventional counterpart taking into account dietary impact of any changes in nutritional content or value.
36.  Information should be provided to ensure that genes coding for known toxins or anti-nutrients present in the donor organisms are not transferred...
43.  The transfer of genes from commonly allergenic foods and from foods known to elicit gluten-sensitive enteropathy in sensitive individuals should be avoided unless it is documented that the transferred gene does not code for an allergen or for a protein involved in gluten-sensitive enteropathy.
58.  Antibiotic resistance genes used in food production that encode resistance to clinically used antibiotics should not be present in foods.

Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods Produced Using Recombinant-DNA Microorganisms
Head Office
24 Highbury Crescent
London N5 1RX, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 7226 6663
Fax: +44 (0)20 7354 0607
e-mail: [email protected]

Press Release
For immediate release
01 July 2003

Go to a Print friendly Page

Email this Article to a Friend

Back to the Archive