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The European Union has succeeded in fighting off a U.S. attempt to allow the use of genetically-engineered bovine growth hormone. The United Nations Codex Alimentarius Commission, meeting in Geneva, voted to defer a decision on the contentious issue for two years to allow in-depth scientific research.
Heated debate pitted the 15-member EU against the U.S., backed by Canada, which supported a Commission proposal allowing the use of rBGH.
The standards set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission are important because they serve as a reference for the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The adoption of a standard that would allow the use of genetically-engineered growth hormone in milk production could pave the way for a U.S. challenge against the EU at the WTO.
The body adopted by 38 votes, with 21 against and 12 abstentions, the EU offer tabled by the Netherlands to return the Commission proposal to experts for reconsideration on grounds of possible safety and animal welfare implications.
Another contentious issue under debate at the Commission, which ends its current session on Saturday, is a U.S. attempt to have unpasteurised cheese and other dairy products banned as a health risk, opposed fiercely by France and Switzerland.
source: Reuter, 25/6/97
We were surprised to read of Canada's alliance with the U.S. on this issue and am pleased to have received a prompt and explicit reply (letter of July 18th) to the questions I asked of the Canadian delegation.
George Paterson, Director General, Food Directorate, Health Canada, and Head of the Canadian Delegation to the 22nd Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), first confirmed "that rBST has not been approved for use in Canada. The Department's review to date of available data has not identified any apparent safety concerns for the Canadian public from the administration of rBST and the subsequent consumption of food from treated animals. The review is now focusing on the potential impact of rBST on animal health."
I think it is worth noting the words "to date" and "available data". What he did not say was that there have ever been any studies carried out on the long-term health effects on humans. There have not been any regarding either rBGH (rBST) itself or IGF-1. And the case remains that all "data available" is supplied by the supplicant in the case, Monsanto.
Paterson then provided a detailed explanation of how the Canadian position taken at the Codex meeting was consistent with the above. "The issue before the CAC was not the approval of the use of rBST per se, but rather on the establishment of an unspecified maximum residue limit (MRL) for rBST in foods. In this regard, Canada's position was predicated on the scientific evaluation of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives that residues of rBST in foods do not pose a risk to consumers. Consequently, the Canadian delegation voted against the proposal..."
Again, it is worth noting that the Expert Committee based its opinion not on any empirical studies, but on hypotheses such as "substantial equivalence" and "familiarity". This must lead one to question the quality, objectivity and reliability of such "expert" opinion, and to demand an open and public process of policy-making in affairs of such public significance. It is time to democratize all this. How? is the question.
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