Global Safety Rules for Biotech Foods Agreed

YOKOHAMA, Japan, March 12, 2002 (ENS) - All foods made using biotechnology should be subject to pre-marketing safety assessments, and nations should be free to use tracing systems as part of their risk management procedures for such products, a United Nations task force on foods derived from biotechnology has concluded.

A round of applause by the 226 participants greeted the agreement reached March 6 by the Codex Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology in Yokohama, Japan.


Genetically modified corn (Photo courtesy Monsanto)
The group's draft principles on the risk analysis and management of biotech foods mark a step forward in the global management of genetically modified (GM) foods. The principles appear to vindicate, at least partially, the European Union's insistence on introducing a system to enable tracing GM foods.

The task force, which has been hosted by Japan since 2000, will go on developing guidelines for risk assessment of GM foods originating from microorganisms. It will continue its efforts until March 2003.

The final work of the task force will be submitted to the Codex Alimentarius Commission, at its next meeting in July 2003 in Rome, Italy, for adoption. The commission is a joint program of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization which sets standards in all areas of food production and regulation.

While these standards are technically voluntary, they generally gain some type of legal authority once they are adopted by the World Trade Organization and other international bodies, as well as national governments.

As agreed, the draft biotech food principles call for all foods to be safety assessed on a case-by-case basis, with "both intended and unintended effects" considered. "New or altered hazards" should be identified as should changes in key nutrients "relevant to human health," the principles state.

When foods are genetically engineered, genes from bacteria, viruses, other plants or animals are inserted into crops like corn, canola, soybeans, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, and papayas to achieve more favorable characteristics such as higher yield, faster ripening, pest control, or herbicide tolerance.


New Zealand scientist conducts research on genetically modified plants. (Photo courtesy NZ Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry)
Genetically modified foods are a concern for people who have food allergies because they have not been tested or regulated, nor is there a requirement that they be labeled in most countries.

Nations should also be free to employ a range of risk management measures including post-market monitoring. Such monitoring may necessitate a GM food tracing system, which would also allow products to be withdrawn if negative effects on human health are identified, the task force agreed.

The Codex Alimentarius, or the food code, has become the most important global reference point for consumers, food producers and processors, national food control agencies and the international food trade. The code has had an impact on the thinking of food producers and processors as well as on the awareness of the consumers.

The FAO says the influence of the food code extends to every continent, and "its contribution to the protection of public health and fair practices in the food trade is immeasurable."


{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email:}.