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Monday, June 1, 1998 Published at 00:29 GMT 01:29 UK

World: Americas

No agreement on altered foods

Genetically modified foods such as soya have become a highly controversial issue

An international meeting trying to draw up regulations for labelling genetically-altered foods has broken up without agreement.

The meeting of the United Nations Codex commission - formed by the World Trade Organisation to draft international labelling requirements for food - spent a week trying to find a compromise between two views on the issue.

The European Union, India and most Asian countries say all genetically-modified foodstuffs should be labelled - a position backed by consumer groups who say the long-term health effects of genetic modification are not properly understood.

Health warning only labels

But the United States, backed by Canada and many Latin American nations, say altered foods need only be labelled if there is a proven health risk or if a food's nutritional value has been changed.

Consumers' groups from more than 100 countries attending the meeting in the Canadian capital Ottawa say that, with the US and Europe on opposite sides of the issue, it is not surprising the meeting failed to achieve its goals.

Doctor John Fagan, an American biologist and a spokesman for Consumers' International - a coalition of more than 200 consumers' groups - says that as much as 70% of packaged food contains genetically altered ingrediants, such as soy and canola oil.

The US and Canada are major producers of soy and canola.

Dr Fagan says genetically-altered food should be labelled because the long-term health effects are not properly understood.

However, officials from Canada's food inspection agency say that if the food posed a risk, it would never be approved for sale.

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European Biomedical Research Association: Genetically-modified food debate

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