According to news sources, the Codex Alimentarius Commission concluded its meeting in Geneva by reaching an agreement on labeling foods that contain genetically modified (GM) ingredients. While the guidance is not mandatory, it would allow countries to label GM foods without risking a legal challenge before the World Trade Organization. National laws based on Codex guidance or standards cannot apparently be challenged as trade barriers. The matter has been debated before the commission, which consists of food safety regulatory agencies and organizations from around the world, for some two decades.

Consumer interest organizations were apparently pleased with the agreement, but had urged the commission to adopt mandatory labeling. Still, a Consumers Union scientist reportedly said, “We are particularly pleased that the new guidance recognizes that GM labeling is justified as a tool for post-market monitoring. This is one of the key reasons we want all GM foods to be required to be labeled—so that if consumers eat modified foods, they will be able to know and report to regulators if they have an allergic or other adverse reaction.” Meanwhile, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which endorsed the agreement as “totally consistent with the U.S. position,” emphasized that the agreement “says no new guidelines are needed,” and it is “just a compilation of existing texts with a consideration statement that says foods derived from biotech are no different from other foods based on method of product[ion]. It also encourages companies to be consistent with Codex guidelines.”

In a related matter, U.S. trade and agriculture officials, citing scientific evidence on the additive’s safety, reportedly criticized the commission for failing to move forward with standards on ractopamine, a feed additive. Commission members were apparently unable to reach a consensus about the drug, which is used to enhance leanness in pork and beef. Without a Codex standard, some governments, including Taiwan’s, have restricted U.S. beef imports because the meat has trace amounts of ractopamine. Trade talks with Taiwan’s government broke down over the issue in October 2009. See The Hill, July 5, 2011; Law360, July 6, 2011; Agweek, July 11, 2011.