A 12-member strong delegation from Consumers International was on hand to lobby delegates from 55 countries to speak up for an international guideline on labelling of all GM food that would protect countries (which already have labelling of GM food) from being challenged at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Consumers International Head Office (UK) Communications Officer, Julia Crosfield, said it was incredible that Australia, which already has mandatory labelling requirements for GM food, had spoken out against Codex guidelines, Wednesday.
Australia is one of the 40 countries with mandatory labelling of GM food, and this accounts for one-third of the world's population.
The others include Brazil, China, Japan, Russia, Croatia, Norway, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand and the European Union (EU). Last year, the EU comprising 25 countries, introduced a comprehensive labelling system and traceability mechanism for GM food, reportedly among the strictest in the world.
"Australia has behaved badly on the international level because they have GM labelling in their own country, and yet they were not taking that stand on the international level during the Codex meeting.
"In Australia, foods with GM proteins that are detectable in testing must be labelled. Labels provide consumers with vital information about the ingredients in their food," Crosfield told Daily Express, Thursday.
Of the 55 country delegations (comprising government representatives), 30 countries spoke in favour of labelling GM food. Some of these delegations have representatives from food and biotechnology industries, consumer advocacy groups and environmental groups such as Green Peace.
Consumers International felt that Australia should have voted in favour of a more comprehensive labelling regime for GM foods.
The Australian delegation was led by Melanie Fisher of Food Standards, Australia & New Zealand. On the 18 countries which remained silent at the Codex meeting, Crosfield said they should have spoken up in support.
"Members of delegations from these countries have done research on issues relating to GM food, organic food and trans-fatty acids. Either they don't have an opinion or they are sitting on the fence."
When interviewed, the Australian Consumers' Association's Food Policy Officer, Clare Hughes said: "We are ashamed that Australia spoke against labelling of GM food.
"Australia has labelling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and yet the delegation failed to stand up for the even limited amount of protection we have at home.
"As such, we are denying countries from having the benefits of something that Australians already have." Hughes reckoned that Australia's stand stemmed from its trade agreement with the United States.
"Even so, they can trade with American and have GM food labelling at the same time."
Crosfield regretted that discussions would now continue over the year. A working group has been appointed to further discuss the issue.
"It will be led by Canada (which has been the host country for the Codex Committee on Food Labelling since its first session in June 1965)."
Countries whose delegates supported discussions on GM labelling were the European Union (EU) countries - Austria, Ireland, Finland, Germany, Italy, Greece, Spain, United Kingdom, Poland, Belgium, France, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary and Netherlands.
Other countries in support were Japan, Brazil, Malaysia, India, Kenya, Indonesia, Switzerland, Norway, New Zealand, Tunisia, Senegal, Swaziland, Panama, Turkey and Ghana.
Senior Standards Officer Alice Onyango from the Kenya Bureau of Standards proposed that food that contains genetically altered DNA or protein must be labelled.
"This means any food, food ingredient, food additive, food-processing aid or flavouring that contains genetically altered DNA or protein must be identified on the label as being genetically altered.
"Likewise, food that has altered characteristics must be labelled. This means that if food is significantly different from its non-GM counterpart with respect to allergenicity, toxicity, nutritional ipact or end use, it must be identified on the label as being genetically modified (altered)."
The purpose of labelling such food, she said, is to provide consumers with useful information and information regarding health and safety.
Countries that tried to terminate discussions on the GM labelling guidelines at Codex:
Countries with GM labelling who spoke out against Codex guidelines:
Countries with mandatory GM labelling:
Countries who supported discussions on GM labelling at Codex: