A step toward biotech labeling

A new international trade agreement on bioengineered foods puts pressure on U.S. farmers and processors to segregate these products and could speed their labeling in the global marketplace.

The U.S. and a small group of allies resisted terms of the agreement, but eventually went along with the majority at the 140-nation Montreal meeting held in late January. The pact allows a country to ban the import of genetically modified food without full scientific proof that it is unsafe. Barriers must be based on scientific findings, however, and not simply fear or protectionism.

Countries must be notified if they accept exports of genetically modified seeds or living organisms intended to be introduced into the environment. The majority of nations also wanted a system whereby they would be notified if foods they import were produced from genetically modified seeds. In return for its endorsement of the overall pact, the U.S. won a two-year delay on food notification, which is almost certain to include labeling of these products.

The U.S. is the world leader in the production and export of genetically modified foods and continues to maintain they are safe. The U.S. has resisted labeling of genetically modified food, believing that it sends a message that these products are different or even unsafe, a position taken by some environmental and consumer groups.

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