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Press Release 01/20 Joint WHO/FAO


Rome, 2 April 2001 -- The joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission's Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology have made significant progress in setting standards for foods derived from biotechnology, the two UN agencies announced today. Codex Alimentarius is the body charged with the development of international standards for food safety and consumer protection.

The Task Force, bringing together officials from 35 countries and representatives of 24 non-governmental organizations including Consumers International, industry groups and Greenpeace reached near consensus on a draft text of "general principles for risk analysis of foods derived from biotechnology." Risk analysis is the system by which governments consider the safety of foods and the measures that need to be taken to protect the public from any health risks. The guidelines do not cover environmental issues because these are included in other United Nations agreements, such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

The one point on which consensus could not be achieved was the question of traceability. This is a system of tracing all foods and food components from their origin to the point of final consumption and is not related exclusively to foods derived from biotechnology. According to the announcement, traceability is strongly favored by European countries, but some countries worry that the system might be too complex and too costly to operate globally.

The Task Force also announced agreement on a Draft Guideline for the Conduct of Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant-DNA Plants. The guidelines pay special attention to the question of allergenicity that might be transferred to new genetically modified (GM) plant varieties. The guidelines also prohibit the transfer of genes that would cause gluten-sensitive reactions in people with celiac disease. The Task Force will further refine guidelines at its next meeting and will initiate work on similar guidelines for the safety assessment of genetically modified micro-organisms used in food production and processing.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission set up the ad hoc Task Force in 1999. The Government of Japan hosts it. The Task Force Chairman is Professor Hiroshi Yoshikura, Director General, Research Institute, International Medical Center of Japan. Some 210 experts and officials took part in the 25-29 March 2001 meeting.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission was established in 1962 to implement the joint FAO/WHO Foods Standards Programme. Codex is an intergovernmental statutory body with a 165-country membership. Its purpose is to protect the health of consumers, to ensure fair practices in food trade and to promote coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations.

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For further information Contact:
Erwin Northoff
FAO Media Relations
Telephone: + 39 06 5705 3105
FAO's Codex Alimentarius Commission web site:
Melinda Henry,
Public Information officer
Spokesperson's Office
World Health Organization (WHO)
Telephone: +41 22 791 4858

WHO web site:

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