Geneva, Switzerland—Following the U.S. delegation’s decision to drop its longstanding opposition to the concept, an official guidance on the labeling of products containing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) was adopted at the annual Codex Alimentarius summit.

The United States lent its support to a guidance that, although not mandatory, opens the door for nations around the world to create their own labeling regulations, without the threat of lawsuits from a free trade standpoint. This is because, as a World Trade Organization-backed commission, Codex standards and documents have the influence to guide global consumer protection and trade law.

The reversal by the United States came as a surprise to many, and finally paved the way for a Codex stance on a subject that has been debated for two decades. It is being hailed as a victory for consumer rights, in this case the right to know whether a food product has been genetically modified. The inclusion, however, of certain language in the guidance document is being seen as a concession to anti-labeling interests. The document says explicitly that it’s guidance on GMO labeling “is not intended to suggest or imply that foods derived from modern biotechnology are necessarily different from other foods.”

Opponents of labeling food as genetically modified worry it could unnecessarily warn consumers away from safe products. With the prevalence of genetically modified food in markets including the United States and Canada, experts say that even the publication of this document is unlikely to lead to GMO labeling requirements in these markets any time soon.

(online 7/13/11)