Good News at Codex This Week
Written by the National Health Federation
Published: May 2010
Quebec City Convention Centre
CCFL Meeting held here May 3-7, 2010
While you may be hearing “woe is me” information about the recent Codex Committee on Food Labelling (CCFL) meeting being held at the Quebec City Convention Centre here in Quebec City, Canada this week, the truth is actually quite different. Far from being a situation where the anti-genetically-modified (GM) food labeling forces (i.e., pro-GM foods) are advancing, they are in headlong retreat!
And if we may say so, we should know because the National Health Federation has been in the thick of the fight on this issue, even in the special, closed Codex meetings, which we can attend due to our special accredited status with Codex. Our outspoken, strong stance that GM foods should be labeled as such so that the consumer can make an informed purchase must be hitting some raw nerves since I had a number of delegates scream at me during yesterday’s breakout session.
But bottom-line: We are winning. It may seem glacially slow, even imperceptible to an outside observer; but NHF can tell you that the movement is steadily in our favor and direction. Just consider this:
- The Other Side is Falling Apart. The coalition of forces wanting to hide the fact that they are selling GM foods is in disarray and falling apart. The Codex delegations of Australia and New Zealand – quite vocal at past Committee meetings in opposing GM-food labeling – were completely quiet at this week’s session of CCFL, with one exception: Australia actually spoke out briefly but clearly in favor of a “modern biotechnology” definition that the pro-GM food-labeling forces favored! That was a switch.
And, Canada, which in the past had been joined at the hip with the United States and Mexico, in opposing GM-food labeling, is now starting to drift apart and chart its own separate path on the issue. In fact, the coalition of the unwilling could not even properly coordinate and orchestrate their formerly-strong opposition, as they had so carefully done in the past.
Next year, the coalition of the unwilling will be even further disunited, especially after we re-double our efforts to rein in the American and Canadian delegates from disregarding the will of their own citizens, who are solidly in favor of GM-food disclosure.
- They Did Not Succeed In Stopping Consideration of the GM Label. The anti-GM label forces have wanted this Committee to stop all consideration of this agenda item. Yet, this week, the pro-GM-food labeling forces beat back the latest (and weakest) attempt to stop the consideration process and also stopped the anti-GM label force’s effort to insert misleading language about the “safety” of GM foods into the GM-food labeling disclosure. While the GM-food labeling did not advance, the wording sought by the pro-label forces was substantially preserved, intact, to be revisited at next year’s meeting. This may not seem significant, but when you consider that the GM-food proponents have been trying to kill this provision for years, it is a victory to survive so that when the moment is right (as we feel it will be next year), we can then take the matter forward along the road to completion.
- The Players. The “good guys” are those who want the consumer to be informed, that is, to have the choice when shopping to know when he or she is buying GM foods. These good guys are the European Union (which has taken a consistently strong stand in favor of GM labeling under the capable direction of Jerome Lepeintre), Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, Morocco, Kenya, Cameroun, Ghana, Mali, the Republic of Korea, supported by the INGO delegations of Consumers International (Dr. Michael Hansen), International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) (Elisabeth Sterken), and of course the National Health Federation.
On the other hand, speaking against the rights of the consumer to be informed were the delegations of the United States (led by Dr. Barbara Schneeman), Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, and two industry INGOs known as the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and the International Council of Grocery Manufacturers (ICGMA). To their credit, Australia and New Zealand were AWOL from this coalition. South Africa made one intervention on the subject matter but no one we spoke with could tell whether it was for or against labeling as it was not well presented.
Not counting the private session where we spoke out often, the NHF took the floor to speak to the full Committee some 7 to 8 times on this topic, at one point even telling the Committee that “it was a curious situation when the delegate for the European Union spoke more on behalf of American and Canadian consumers than either the American or the Canadian delegates who had no authority to speak on behalf of their citizens since opinion polls showed a vast majority of Americans and Canadians supported the labeling of GM foods.”
And near the end, NHF was able to help stiffen the resolve of several country delegations to reject the false “compromises” offered by the anti-GM labeling forces.
So, while the battle continues, make no mistake, the momentum is in our favor. Believe not the naysayers.