Labeling Guidance Of Genetically Modified Food Gains Approval

Jul 13, 2011   

On July 5, 2011, regulators from the worlds food safety regulatory agencies gathered at the Codex Summit in Geneva, Switzerland to vote on food labeling guidance for genetically modified foods. Genetically modified foods (“GM foods”), food products derived from organisms whose genetic makeup have been altered through genetic engineering, have been on the international market since the early 1990s. This annual summit was organized by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a body created in 1963 by the Food Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization to develop international food standards, guidelines, and related texts. Representatives from over 100 countries attended the Summit and approved GM food labeling guidance, which allows countries to label genetically modified foods without risking violation of international free trade laws.

After a 20-year struggle among international food safety bodies, the United States surprised attendees of the Codex Summit by ending their opposition to the proposed GM food labeling guidance. The United States has traditionally opposed GM food labeling because it believes GM food products on the market have been sufficiently tested and deemed safe for human consumption. Nevertheless, the United States changed its position because “this adopted text clarifies that foods derived from modern biotechnology are not necessarily different from other foods simply due to their method of production.” The United States, however, remains opposed to proposals that make GM food labeling mandatory.

As a result of the affirmative vote at the Codex Summit last week, the GM food labeling guidance document will become an official Codex text. Because national measures based on Codex guidance or standards cannot be challenged as a barrier to trade, the passage of this new guidance provides any country the freedom to adopt the new labeling system without the threat of legal sanctions from the World Health Organization.

By passing these new labeling guidelines, countries will now have the opportunity to conduct post-market monitoring of the effects of GM food products on the publics health. Countries that adopt the labeling guidance can better track information about GM foods because consumers can report any allergies or adverse reactions from exposure to foods containing GM products or foods derived from modern biotechnology. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for regulating food products that are sold on the market in the United States, whether produced domestically or imported from foreign nations. Even though the new labeling guidance requires new national legislation to refer to the “scientific uncertainty of risks” and the need for post-market surveillance, the new guidelines “will probably have little effect on food labels in the U.S. for the foreseeable future,” the LA Times reported. Consumers may slowly begin to see some changes to labels on imported food products, but the FDAs regulatory processes will likely remain unchanged unless the United States adopts the GM food labeling guidelines.

Fuerst Ittleman will continue to monitor changes to the regulation of genetically modified food products. For more information, contact us at