Page:Full Disclosure Appendix, Eighteen Major Cases.djvu/33

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Targeted Transparency in the International Context

biotech product to gain approval since 1998. The commission also approved a variety of genetically modified maize in 2006.

After the Starlink contamination incident in 2002, the United States also proposed voluntary guidelines for companies to use if they wanted to inform consumers that their products did or did not contain genetically modified ingredients. The FDA recommended that labels feature statements that products were (or were not) genetically engineered or were made (or not made) using biotechnology, rather than statements that products were “GMO free,” since some degree of contamination seemed unavoidable. 246 In an unrelated regulatory change, the United States also introduced rules to standardize labeling of “organic” foods, a growing portion of the U.S . food market. Those rules included a requirement that foods labeled organic could not contain genetically modified ingredients. 247

As of 2006, however, the labeling of genetically modified foods appeared unlikely to prove sustainable or effective as a public health measure or as a means of increasing market efficiency by informing consumer choice, for two reasons. First, frequent incidents of contamination between genetically modified and conventional crops , as wel l as acknowledgement that some contamination was inevitable, raised doubts about whether accurate labeling was technically feasible. Second, the underlying complexity and uncertainty of safety and environmental issues concerning genetic modification made it difficult to communicate accurately with consumers by means of labels. “GMOs fall into the class of risk situations characterized by both low certainty and low consensus,” David Winickoff and his coauthors suggested in an analysis of these food wars. 248 In such situations, labels that warn but do not inform tend to inflame public fears rather than improve public knowledge.

Labeling of genetically modified foods by the European Union also had extreme unintended consequences. In effect, it continued to preclude farmers in developing countries from planting genetically modified crops. Seemingly simple labeling required farmers, distributors, and food companies to segregate genetically modified crops at every step. Farmers, grain elevators, railroad cars, processing facilities, and food manufacturing plants needed separate facilities and processes for conventional and genetically modified fruits, vegetables, and grains. In the United States, officials estimated that crop segregation and tracking requirements might increase food production costs by 10 to 30 percent. 249

In the absence of any more appropriate international forum, the continuing battle over the labeling of genetically modified foods took the form of a trade dispute, with the World Trade Organization (WTO) acting as arbiter. In February 2006 the WTO ruled that the EU’s informal ban against imports of genetically modified foods represented an unlawful restraint of trade (although the EU had by then technically lifted the ban). 250 EU officials countered that the WTO ruling would not influence their policies.