Labeling Products of Food Biotechnology: Panacea or Hidden Trade Barrier?

In the debates surrounding genetically modified organisms in the food supply, the issue of labeling has become ever more salient. The EU is developing regulations to require labeling and traceability for all foods containing or derived from GMOs. Other countries, including Australia, Brazil, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and Thailand are also in the process of developing voluntary labeling guidelines. In January of 2000, 130 countries adopted the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety which calls for bulk shipments of GMO commodities, such as corn or soybeans that are intended to be used as food, feed or for processing, to be accompanied by documentation stating that such shipments "may contain" living modified organisms and are "not intended for intentional introduction into the environment." Will these labeling systems prevent trade disruptions and enhance the international trading system established by the WTO? Or will they act as non-tariff barriers that obfuscate consumer decisions and lead to greater expense, confusion and ultimately to new trade wars?

Any GMO labeling debate must take into consideration the political, economic, legal, operational and administrative aspects of such labeling. The political considerations include the maintenance of confidence in the food system and how policy makers balance the demands of domestic constituencies against their various international obligations, such as under WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement. The economic questions focus on a cost/benefit analysis of segregation and identity-preservation and whether labels provide information or capture a premium for producers. The legal issues include the possible challenge of discrimination in trade and the extent of liability under domestic law for misleading or incorrect labels. Operational adn administrative questions center on whether to make labels mandatory, whether to take a product or process approach, how feasible and costly are particular approaches and whether it is necessary it is necessary to require full traceability.

The workshop will be hosted by the European Forum of the Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. The goal of the workshop is to make a significant contribution to the ongoing policy debate. Participants will include academic, government and private sector specialists and bring expertise in economics, law and political science.