Consumers Union is asking the Obama Administration to get behind a compromise on genetically modified (GM)/genetically engineered (GE) food labeling that is widely supported in the international community.

gmo-apple.jpgLast week, the Codex Committee on Food Labeling, an arm of Codex Alimentarius–the United Nations food standards agency–met to discuss GM labeling. The U.S. fought for a guideline that Codex would not “suggest or imply that GM/GE foods are in any way different from other foods,” and refused to agree to comprise language stating that Codex “recognizes that each country can adopt different approaches regarding labeling” of GM/GE foods.

Of the approximately 50 countries present at the meeting, only Mexico, Costa Rica, and Argentina, supported the U.S. position.

According to Consumers Union, the committee did not come to an agreement. The Codex Committee on Food Labeling Chair decided that the guideline should be mediated in Brussels, with Ghana chairing the meeting, providing another opportunity to reach consensus.

Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, was one of 80 groups who sent a letter last month to Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for food at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), expressing serious concerns about the proposed U.S. position on GM/GE labeling.

The group said in a statement yesterday that it has “serious concerns” the the U.S. position on labeling could create “major problems” for both domestic and foreign producers who want to label their products as free of GM/GE ingredients.

“The U.S. government clearly recognizes that there are differences between GE and non-GE food-U-SDA organic rules specifically state that GE seed cannot be used in organic production. The FDA has also taken the position that within the U.S., voluntary labeling as to whether or not a product contains GE ingredients is permissible,” said Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, and the lead spokesperson for the 220-member Consumers International at the meeting. “It is unclear why the U.S. has taken a contrary position on GM/GE food at Codex.”

As Consumers Union noted in its statement yesterday, Codex guidelines are widely adopted by developing countries and are used to settle trade challenges at the World Trade Organization (WTO).  

“The U.S. position at this international meeting is not consistent with the U.S. position at home.  We urge the U.S. to bring its position at Codex into alignment with domestic policy and allow the compromise to go forward,” added Hansen.