August 28, 2014

Take Action / Resources / Topics / Labeling

Labeling

There is no mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods in Canada despite intensive campaigning and 10 years of polling that show over 80% of Canadians want these labels. Instead, a national standard for voluntary labeling was established - but this is voluntary and no company has yet labeled their products as containing GE ingredients!

64 countries around the world have various types of mandatory labeling GE food labeling laws including the 15 nations in the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and China.

There is currently huge momentum behind the campaign to label genetically engineered foods in the United States. In 2013, an initiative to label GE food in Washington state failed in a popular vote 51/49, after the food industry spent over $20 million to defeat it. In 2012, Californians narrowly voted against labelling in a California Ballot Initiative (Proposition 37) after corporations spent a total of $46 million in advertising. Get an update on US labeling campaigns here.

Labeling in Canada

Health Canada is responsible for labelling with respect to health and safety matters and the CFIA is
responsible for the development of non-health-and-safety labelling, for example, labelling foods to
meet the needs of religious communities.

8 polls between 1994 and 2001 confirmed that over 80% of Canadians wanted labelling. Groups in Canada worked hard for many years to get mandatory labelling but could not succeed when confronted by the tremendous political and economic power of the biotech industry, as recently seen in the U.S.. In 2001, a bill for mandatory labelling was defeated (126 to 91) in the House of Commons after an intense grassroots campaign. Watch The National report on the failure of the Private Members Bill to label GM foods in Canada, October 17, 2001.

The Canadian government's only response to the overwhelming public call for mandatory labelling, aside from consumer "education" initiatives, was to strike a committee to create a national standard for voluntary labelling. In September 1999, the Canadian General Standards Board formed a Committee on Voluntary Labelling of Foods Obtained Through Biotechnology (which promptly changed its name to the Committee on Voluntary Labelling for Foods Obtained or Not Obtained through Genetic Engineering and then to switched terminology again to Genetic Modification). The committee was an initiative of the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors - a national organization representing about 80% of grocery and supermarket companies in Canada.

2008: Private Members Bill defeated: A Private Members Bill to label genetically engineered foods (C-517) introduced by Gilles-A. Perron of Bloc Québécois was defeated in the House of Commons in April 2008.

Global consumer rights victory

July 5, 2011

  • Twenty year struggle within global food safety body ends with ‘consumer rights milestone’
  • Move clears way for greater monitoring of the effects of GM organisms

Canada was an obstacle to the labeling guidelines until public pressure changed our government's position. Thanks to your action and years of work (16!) with many groups around the world, there are international guidelines on GM labeling.

More than 100 countries agreed on long overdue guidance on the labeling of genetically modified (GM) food. The Codex Alimentarius Commission of the UN, made up of the world’s food safety regulatory agencies, has been labouring for two decades to come up with consensus guidance. In a striking reversal of their previous position during the annual Codex summit in Geneva, the US delegation dropped its opposition to the GM labelling guidance document, allowing it to move forward and become an official Codex text. The new Codex agreement means that any country wishing to adopt GM food labelling will no longer face the threat of a legal challenge from the World Trade Organization (WTO). This is because national measures based on Codex guidance or standards cannot be challenged as a barrier to trade. This will have immediate implications for consumers. Click here for analysis from Consumers International.

The United Nation's Codex guidelines on GM food labelling are voluntary and so the guidelines themselves do not compel countries to label (so this will not result in labelling in Canada for example).

Your Actions Worked! UN Codex Provides For Labeling

May 11, 2010: Thanks to your letters, the Canadian government delegation to the UN Codex meeting last week did not support the U.S. position against GM food labeling. The U.S. failed in their attempts to stop the negotiations.

The Canadian government did not speak up to support the nonsensical position from the U.S. that GM foods are no different from foods produced through conventional methods. Though not yet actively supporting a positive position on GM labeling, Canada did not obstruct the meeting and the U.S. was not able to put an end to the negotiations. Out of the over 50 countries at the negotiations, the U.S. was only supported in its position by Mexico, Costa Rica, and Argentina. The U.S. was trying to put an end to the UN Codex negotiations on GM labeling but the negotiations will continue.

May 10, 2010, Consumers Union Press Release:U.S. Stands Nearly Alone in Opposition at Recent International Meeting

April 30, 2010 - Press Release: Canada to oppose the right of countries to label GM foods?Regroupement québécois contre les OGM (RQcOGM), Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN)

April 30, 2010 - Read CBAN's letter to the Minister of Health.

Developing countries want support from Codex for their right to label GM foods. The US and Canada want to make sure this doesn’t happen because Codex recommendations on GM labeling could protect developing countries from challenges at the World Trade Organization. Developing countries are pressing for recommendations on GE labeling from Codex to assist their efforts to provide information to consumers.

What is Codex?

Codex Alimentarius means “food code”. The Codex Alimentarius Comission is a UN process established in the 1960s by the United Nationals Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization. Through Codex, national governments meet to negotiate and harmonize guidelines for food safety assessments and other standards including food labeling. Codex guidelines are voluntary and non-binding but are an international reference point for countries. Codex standards are now the benchmarks against which national food measures and regulations are evaluated in the event of trade disputes brought forward by countries through the World Trade Organization.

Consumer organizations are able to register to participate in Codex meetings and can also submit written comments for consideration. Click here to go to the Codex website.

May 5, 2009: Canada Must Support UN Negotiations on Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods: Codex meeting in Calgary could suspend work on GM food labeling. Update: Despite US and Canadian objections, the Codex meeting agreed to continue their work to develop guidelines for labeling GM foods.

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