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Organic Consumers Association

USDA's New Biotechnology Regulations Could Allow Drugs in Food

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) today denounced newly proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules governing genetically engineered crops, including food crops engineered to produce pharmaceutical and industrial products. The proposed rules, UCS charged, would not protect the U.S. food supply from potential contamination by drugs from "pharma" crops, and could allow drugs that it deems "safe" to enter the food supply. This contamination could occur through cross-pollination or seed mixing between pharma food crops and crops intended for consumption.

The USDA ignored recommendations for a ban on the outdoor production of pharma food crops from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, major food companies, UCS, and more than 100 environmental, agricultural, health, and consumer organizations.

Below is a statement by Jane Rissler, UCS's Food and Environment Program deputy director: "Under the proposed rules, USDA's new motto is 'Only safe levels of drugs in U.S. food.' If  these proposals are enacted into law, American consumers must accept the possibility of drugs in their breakfast cereal or other common foods. Moreover, these rules likely will lead to contamination scares, which will hurt the food industry.

"The USDA proposal, unlike the ban we recommended, offers no incentives to drug companies to pursue already existing, safer methods for producing drugs.

"In its rush to enact the proposed rules into law before the end of the Bush administration, the USDA has given short shrift to public participation. The department is allowing only 45 days for the public to analyze and comment on this major proposal, which will determine the government's approach to regulating genetically engineered organisms for years to come.

"The proposed rules also overhaul the existing regulatory system for genetically engineered crops other than pharma crops. Some of the proposed changes represent steps in the right direction such as making the regulatory program more coherent and comprehensive, expanding the scope of genetically engineered organisms subject to government oversight, and allowing the department to consider impacts on public health."

For UCS's Web feature profiling innovative biotechnology companies that are developing drugs more safely, go to http://ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/solutions/sensible_pharma_crops/sensible-pharma/.

For the location of pharma crops that have been grown outdoors across the country, go to http://go.ucsusa.org/food_and_environment/pharm/index.php?s_keyword=XX.

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