Genetically-Altered Foods
Could Spark Major Trade War
Sandra Bartlett
CBC Radio
TORONTO - In Europe, the market for genetically modified foods is rapidly disappearing. There are now eight major food chains that say they will no longer stock genetically modified food.
Without labels, many countries have stopped buying North American food That's causing concern among North American farmers who worry that soon they may have no market for their crops.
Genetically modified foods are grown from seeds that contain genetic material from other plants or organisms. Gene-altered crops produce soybeans and bug-resistant corn or potatoes. These products are in turn used to make salad oil, canned stews or crackers.
In North America, there's no requirement that these foods be labelled. It's becoming an international trade issue.
The problem rests largely with the United States, where most of the GMO foods are grown. The U.S. government supports the agri-business view that no labelling is required because such foods are safe.
This resulted in a developing trade impasse. Without labels, many countries are simply not buying.
The referee in the labelling war is a World Trade Agency, called the Codex Alimentarius Commission. It has members from 164 countries and it's job is to harmonize food standards to make international trade run smoothly.
But the other part of the Codex mandate is to protect consumers' health. That's presenting a dilemma.
Until recently many countries went along with a U.S.-created definition that genetically modified food does not need to be labelled as long as it is "substantially equivalent" to food grown in the traditional manner. But many people say this description is too vague.
Julian Edwards is director general of Consumers International, an umbrella group for consumer organizations from 110 countries. He says not only is the term vague, it contradicts the way the biotech industry treats genetically modified material.
"On the one hand they're saying these products are original, we must be able to patent them to protect our invention," Edwards says. "On the other hand they are telling the public these products are just the same as what they're used to."