A round of applause by the 226 participants greeted the Wednesday agreement reached by the Codex Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology on Wednesday in Yokohama, Japan.
The Principles will provide a framework for evaluating the safety and nutritional aspects of Genetically Modified (GM) foods. They define the need for a pre-market safety assessment of all such foods on a case-by-case basis. According to the UN agencies, the assessment should look into both intended and unintended effects, identifying new or altered hazards and identifying changes, relevant to human health, especially in regard to key nutrients and potential allergenic components.
The Principles would require authorities to consider the uncertainties identified in the safety assessment and implement appropriate measures to manage these uncertainties. One management option described in the Principles is post-market monitoring. The Principles also provide guidance related to analytical methods and other tools to be used in risk management. In this area, the two agencies say that the Task Force "reached a very important new agreement concerning the tracing of GM products for the purpose of facilitating withdrawal from the market when a risk to human health has been identified."
The task force also adopted detailed requirements for assessing the safety of GM plants including tests for allergenicity
The agreement could also mark a break-through in international negotiations concerning the use of tracing systems in relation to food in international trade, the international agencies say.
The Principles also say that efforts should be made to improve the capability of regulatory authorities particularly in developing countries, to assess and manage the safety of GM foods.
The Task Force, which has been hosted by Japan since 2000, will go on developing guidelines for risk assessment of GM foods originating from microorganisms. It will continue its efforts until March 2003. The final work of the Task Force will be submitted to the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission, at its next meeting in July 2003 in Rome, Italy, for adoption.
The Codex Alimentarius, or the food code, has become the seminal global reference point for consumers, food producers and processors, national food control agencies and the international food trade. The code has had an impact on the thinking of food producers and processors as well as on the awareness of the end users - the consumers. Its influence extends to every continent, and its contribution to the protection of public health and fair practices in the food trade is immeasurable.