This webpage was produced as
an assignment for an undergraduate course at Davidson College.
Debate and Policies on Labeling GM Foods
Policies by Country (Western World)
Permission granted by International
Otter Survival Fund.
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directed to the original site.
Before 1996, GM foods were not a
very big deal because they were still a new technology. Today, there is a lot of international debate
over GM foods. Most of the controversy
surrounds the differing labeling policies from place to place. This section intends to outline what these
polices are (as recently as possible), how each country arrived at its current
policy, and why the policies differ among nations (Rousu
and Huffman, 2001). The focus is the United
States and its main trading partners.
policy focuses more on the safety of the final product than the process used to
make it. In 1992, the Department of
Health issued a statement that said GM food did not need to be labeled if the
characteristics of the GM food were the same as the food in its non-GM form (Rousu and Huffman, 2001).
In 1997, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) came out
with a draft of regulations about the organic standard in the nation. A major outcry surrounded the fact that GM
foods were included as organic. In March
2000, a revised draft was circulated that did not include GM foods (Bosco, 2000). A “Guidance for Industry” was issued by the Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) in January of 2001. This reiterated that the only GM foods that
required labels were those that differed from their natural counterparts. It also stated that companies needed to
inform the FDA four months in advance before they could put a GM food on the
market. During these four months, a “scientific
description of the product” is posted on the internet for review (Rousu and Huffman, 2001).
Firms can choose whether or not they would like to label their GM food
products (Rousu and Huffman, 2001; Ahmed, 2002; Lash,
2001). Those that do must follow certain
FDA guidelines: labels cannot contain the words “genetically modified”
as consumer studies show this phrase incorrectly leads buyers to believe the
food has different characteristics than the natural form. “The FDA prefers that
foods be labeled as ‘genetically engineered’ or ‘made through
biotechnology’ instead” (Rousu and
Countries of Europe
The most controversy has taken
place in Europe.
The European Union (EU) sets minimum standards for countries in the EU,
but individual countries may place stricter policies if they see fit. Since April 1998, the EU has had a de
facto moratorium on the approval of any new GM foods for use within the
EU. The Novel Foods Regulation in 1997
made labeling of GM foods mandatory.
With this regulation, any GM foods on the market had pass two
requirements: 1) that it had been shown not to harm the health of humans, and
2) that it was labeled if GM content was at a detectable level. The Novel Foods Regulation did have
downfalls, however. It did not set a
minimum percentage for a detectable level of GM content, and it “left
several exemptions to labeling” (Rousu and
Huffman, 2001). In January 2000, the
Commission of the Council modified the Regulation and stated GM foods must be
labeled “genetically modified” if at least 1% of GM material was
detectable. The moratorium on new
approvals was still in place as of February 2001, and Austria, Denmark, France,
Greece, Italy, and Luxembourg have stated they would not favor the lifting of
the ban on new GM products until more stringent laws are passed (Rousu and Huffman, 2001).
In December 2002, the EU drafted
a law to extend labeling policy to foods containing soya
or maize oil (Anonymous, 2002; Independent Press Association, 2003). These products did not have to be labeled
because they do not contain GM DNA (Independent Press Association, 2003). The products would be labeled ‘This
product contains genetically modified organisms’ or ‘is produced
from genetically modified (organism).’ (Anonymous,
2002). To avoid a trade war with
the U.S., the
ban on GM food approvals was lifted on July
2, 2003, but strict labeling policies are still in place, and new
biotech crops are not allowed. Soya and
maize oil products fall under the new labeling regulations, even though they
did not before. They will be labeled as
proposed in the draft of December 2002, but the GM content requirement will be
lowered just to 0.9%, not 0.5% as proposed.
The majority of Europeans do not want GM food, and almost all want the
option of choosing to eat it (Independent Press Association, 2003). As recently as January 2004, the EU has “taken
one more step towards removing a five-year unofficial ban on new biotech crops
and products” (Smith, 2004). A
proposal to import GM sweetcorn was executively
backed, and EU ministers have until April 2004 to authorize use of the corn
which is produced by a Swiss company.
This corn would not be allowed for planting, but just for eating from a
can. More GM approval applications are
expected, but diplomats will not acknowledge a complete lifting of the GM ban
until seed GMOs are approved for planting in the EU
and Sweden are
not members of the EU, and they require labeling on all GM food (Ahmed, 2002).
As of September 2001, Canada
only required labeling for GM foods that had potential “”health or safety
issues” (Rousu and Huffman, 2001). A voluntary labeling policy is being
considered, and the Canadian people believe the policy could be implemented
soon. The Canadian Food Inspection
Agency supports the passing of a uniform standard for labeling GM foods on an
international level (Rousu and Huffman, 2001).
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