Consumer advocates across the world are celebrating an international agreement that will allow countries to label genetically engineered (GE) foods without facing legal challenges from the World Trade Organization.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is composed of food safety regulators from more than 100 countries, adopted a guidance document during its annual summit in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday that prevents any country's GE food labeling policies from being legally challenged
as barriers to trade. The commission was created in 1963 to create international food safety standards.
The guidance does not mandate the labeling of GE foods, but allows countries to develop their own labeling policies.
The US delegation to the Codex Commission reportedly reversed its position on the guidance document, allowing for the commission to reach consensus after 20 years of debate, according to Consumers International.
The US often finds itself at odds with countries that are reluctant to jump on the GE bandwagon. The Obama administration generally considers GE foods to be no different from conventional foods and is opposed to mandatory labeling of foods containing GE ingredients.
Other countries, however, are eager to regulate food crops genetically engineered by agribusiness companies like Monsanto, Syngenta and BASF.
"Peru's recent introduction of GM food labeling faced the threat of a legal challenge from the WTO," said Edita Vilcapoma, a spokesperson for a Peruvian consumer group. "This new Codex agreement now means that this threat has gone and the consumer right to be informed has been secured. This is major victory for the global consumers movement."
Consumer groups in the United States and across the world have called for foods containing GE ingredients to be labeled as such for years. Consumer advocacy groups are hailing the Codex agreement as a "consumer rights milestone," pointing out that labeling will lead to better oversight of GE food products.
"This is one of the key reasons we want all genetically modified foods to be required to be labeled - so that if consumers eat modified foods, they will be able to know and report to regulators if they have an allergic or other adverse reaction," said Dr. Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at the US Consumers Union.