National Health Federation
February 15, 2007
A Report on the February 2007 Oslo Codex Working Group on GM Labelling
At a recent two-day meeting in Oslo, Norway, a sizeable group of delegates met to discuss establishing international Codex Guidelines for disclosing on food-product labels whether or not a food was genetically modified (GM). Amazingly enough, a number of important countries’ delegates argued that consumers were not smart enough to understand and handle such information. Ignorance is bliss, they essentially claimed.
The National Health Federation (NHF), the only health-freedom organization with the right to attend and have its voice heard at these meetings, sent its own delegation – Tamara Thèrésa Mosegaard and Ingrid Franzon – to argue for the right of all persons to know what they are consuming, especially if it is GM food. In doing so, the NHF verbally sparred with such countries as the United States, Argentina, Canada, and Mexico (the largest grain-exporting countries), all of whom took the carefully coordinated position that consumers should not be informed as to whether they are eating GM foods or not.
Other countries, such as the 27 European nation-states (the EU, including Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Sweden), Brazil, Ghana, India, Japan, Morocco, Norway and Switzerland, strongly opposed hiding such information from the consumer. The result was at times melodramas employing plans obviously orchestrated by the Grain Exporters, who variously used “polite” anger, “polite” aggression, and manipulative language and tactics (with everyone else understanding that they might end the meetings through “nonparticipation”) in an attempt to stop progress towards any Codex Guidelines that would require GM disclosure.
The Meeting Begins
It all began amicably enough with the Norwegian “FDA,” called “Mattilsynet,” hosting a two-day Codex Alimentarius Working Group meeting on the subject of the “Labelling of Foods and Food Ingredients Obtained through Certain Techniques of Genetic Modification/Genetic Engineering.” The meeting took place at the Bristol Hotel in Oslo, Norway on two very cold days in the first week of February 2007. Besides the NHF, there were 24 national delegations and four other international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) present, plus a scattering of individual observers, staff members, and interpreters, some 77 individuals in all.
Norway, Argentina, and Ghana acted jointly as chairmen of the meeting, which opened with a proposal that a table of the various labelling approaches be discussed and developed. Soon enough, a large rift between the Grain Exporters and the Grain Importers became evident, as the Grain Exporters expounded their views that because consumers were different from each other, they did not all need much information about the production methods of GM foods, and if it were given to them, then it could be deemed a “warning” and therefore misleading and damaging to them – and the industry.
The Grain Importers Think GM Foods Are Safe But Want Them Labelled
The Grain Importers strongly believed that their scientific risk-assessment procedures were enough to ensure that GM foods were safe when they reached consumers’ tables, but it was a positive experience to hear that they recognized the importance of consumer information through proper labelling of GM food products.
Tamara Thèrésa Mosegaard, who was the NHF delegation spokesperson at the Oslo meeting and is on the NHF Advisory Board, notes, “However, it was very strange to hear the European Community (EC) talk about scientific risk assessment proving the safety of the GM foods, and the need for consumers to be well informed, when I remember the many years of discussions at the Codex Alimentarius (CCNFSDU) Committee meetings about establishing ‘upper safe (maximum) levels of vitamins and minerals through scientific risk (safety) assessment based upon scientific data.’ Strange, when in the EC many health products are now registered as pharmaceuticals and are either waiting to be tested by very costly procedures because of ‘risk assessment,’ or have already been banned. So, in essence, we – the consumers – have been told that vitamins and minerals can be dangerous to our sensitive health but that we will only stay healthy by eating a balanced, GM functional-food diet. Maybe some people believe this, but most consumers are not that ignorant.”
Ms. Mosegaard adds, “Because of this, natural health, health freedom, and freedom of information and choice have become huge issues, especially in Europe, with more than 70% of the consumers in several countries saying no to GM food, and a majority wanting mandatory labelling so that at least they will know what they are buying and eating.”
The Grain Exporting Empire Strikes Back
In well-coordinated maneuvering, the U.S., Canadian, and Argentinean delegates talked about how they doubted the value of consumer information, how they wanted to prevent “fraud and deception,” and how it was important first to see how the consumers were using the GM labelling information as the labels might be seen as a warning, which would be misleading. Compare these viewpoints with the many years of disproportionate misinformation disseminated through media warnings and these countries’ own regulatory agencies about the “dangers” of vitamins and minerals, which are leading to unnecessary national and global Codex restrictions upon natural and healthy substances.
The U.S. representative, Dr. Barbara Schneeman of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, was especially pointed and heated in her discussions. Amazingly enough, in an unconstitutional flight of fancy, she claimed that they [the FDA and government] should only give consumers the information that the government thought they would understand.
And later, outside the meeting, Dr. Schneeman, quite upset that there was sustained opposition to the Grain Exporters’ position that consumers would be “confused” if they saw products labelled as “GM” on store shelves, claimed incredibly enough that the First Amendment prevents the government from informing consumers about the GM content or origin of their food products!
Yet, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution states quite clearly:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The United States Supreme Court, as well as a number of lesser American courts, has long held in numerous rulings that the First Amendment is not, and never was, intended to suppress free speech but rather to encourage its free exercise. Regardless, the FDA itself has never been reluctant to assert control over food-product label content in the United States, so why is it now curiously taking the position that American law prevents it from doing so in the case of GM foods? Perhaps the GM food producers that were also represented at this meeting and that were practically sitting on Dr. Schneeman’s lap might have had something to do with this aberrant change.
Risk Prevention Not an Issue Here
Also strangely enough, for the Grain Exporters in this Working Group, risk prevention did not seem to be an issue at all. The Argentinean delegation implied that it would be unethical to refuse GM foods to consumers. And all of the Grain Exporters strongly argued the cost effectiveness – to the GM industry of course – of GM food products, not a huge surprise considering how much money is at stake with this technology, based upon highly-persistent and toxic pesticides as well as patents on ‘terminator’ technology (which genetically can switch off a plant's ability to further germinate and would require chemicals to switch it back on).
Most delegates did not see GM technology as threatening irreversible harm to consumers because, as a Grain Exporter delegation stated, “the technology has had 10-15 years of use without any problems.” Yet, as with the deleterious effects of many pharmaceutical drugs, which do not appear for some decades after their initial use, the heated debate on safety issues concerning GM foods is far from over.
NHF Argues Back
In remembering the famous quote by the American Chief Judge at the Nuremberg War-Crimes Tribunal, Robert H. Jackson (who said “It is not the function of our Government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the Government from falling into error”), the NHF told the Working Group’s attendees that NHF was present because consumers are concerned about their freedom of choice through lack of information.
And as a response to Argentina, Canada, and Mexico – who had stated that there are many types of consumers and not all were concerned about GM foods – the NHF stated that “We are all consumers, but that we are here to represent concerned consumers-citizens. There are different views and concerns. Argentina brought up ethical and religious reasons, there are also health, safety, information, and freedom-of-choice concerns,” and the NHF reiterated that it was there to voice the views of concerned consumers.
At the end, the NHF supported the views on consumer information expressed by Morocco, Japan, the EC, and Consumers International, adding further that: “The National Health Federation supports full disclosure of GM ingredients on food labels so that consumers may make fully-informed health choices, and therefore is in favor of mandatory labelling. We are in favor of information and transparency, which is extraordinarily needed in this area because of its highly technological nature and its possible and probable effect on the future of mankind. Studies have shown that there are reasons to be concerned.”
The meeting ended with a mandate to continue its work on GM labelling, much to the dislike of the Grain Exporter delegations which would rather see this issue discarded so that GM food products could be sold in anonymity along with non-GMO products, with consumers blissfully ignorant of the difference.