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UN commission agrees on safety principles for genetically modified foods

UN commission agrees on safety principles for genetically modified foods

A United Nations commission has agreed on the first global principles for assessing the safety of genetically modified foods, the two UN agencies organizing the effort announced today.

The 165-member "Codex Alimentarius Commission" - a subsidiary body of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) - has agreed in principle that the safety of food derived from genetically modified organisms (GMO) should be tested and approved by governments prior to entering the market. In particular, GMO foods should be tested for their potential to cause allergic reactions, the two agencies said.

"This is the first global step toward the safety assessment of genetically modified foods," said WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland. "International agreement on how to perform risk assessment of genetically modified foods will help all countries, especially developing countries," she added.

The Commission, which tomorrow wraps up a week-long session in Geneva, also approved a series of new maximum levels of environmental contaminants, particularly lead, cadmium, and aflatoxin, found in food such as fruit juices, cereals, and milk.

"The work of the Codex Commission on toxic substances is particularly important given the long-term health risks for consumers, especially children," said Alan Randell, the body's Secretary. "Nevertheless there is more work to do and the Commission will continue to work on the issue."

The Codex meeting also agreed to new guidelines for organic livestock production. According to these guidelines, organic livestock farming should aim to use natural breeding methods, minimize stress in animals, prevent disease, and progressively eliminate the use of certain chemical veterinary drugs, including antibiotics. Animals should mainly be fed with high quality organic feed, not meat and bone meal, although fish and milk products are acceptable. The use of growth hormones is not permitted.

While Codex standards, guidelines and recommendations are voluntary, they are recognized by the World Trade Organization as reference points in international trade disputes, FAO and WHO said.