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New Voluntary Rules for Biotech
Industry Are Bogus

New York Times
August 2, 2002
Earlier Safety Reviews Proposed for Gene-Altered Crops
By ANDREW POLLACK

Worried that unapproved genetically modified crops will leak into the food
supply, the White House is proposing new safety reviews to better protect
consumers and to avoid the need for disruptive recalls.

The proposed new rules, which are being published today in the Federal
Register, are based on the premise that there are so many field trials of
experimental genetically engineered crops that some of the crops will almost
inevitably find their way into food, either by cross-pollination or because
some of the modified seeds become mixed with other seeds.
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Because the crops that are being tested have not been approved for
commercial growing or human consumption, even low levels of contamination
could prompt health concerns or food recalls.

So the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is suggesting
that the crops undergo a preliminary safety assessment by the Food and Drug
Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency before field trials
grow so large that such contamination would be likely. The assessment, which
would not be required, would look at whether the new protein introduced into
the crop by gene splicing was toxic or would cause allergies.

If the crop was deemed not to be harmful, then low levels that inadvertently
leaked into the food supply would not be cause for alarm or recalls. The
government also hopes that importers of American crops or food would not
reject shipments because of a low-level presence of unapproved genetically
modified crops. The proposal does not spell out how much contamination might
be permissible.

Field trials are now subject to the approval of the Agriculture Department,
which looks mainly at environmental effects. The F.D.A. or the E.P.A. look
at the health aspects but usually not until the crop moves closer to
commercialization. Those assessments would still be made.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents biotechnology crop
developers, welcomed the new proposals. "For consumers, this enhancement
adds yet another layer of assurance to the existing regulatory review of
agricultural crops," it said in a statement.

But Andrew Kimbrell, director of the Center for Food Safety, a Washington
group opposed to genetically engineered foods, said the proposal, while a
step in the right direction, was "too little too late."

"They are recognizing that there is a likely or future problem with
contamination of conventional crops with genetically engineered varieties
creating potential health risks," he said. But, he added, the proposed new
policy does not address the trials that are already under way, so his group
will seek a moratorium on field trials until the new regulations are in
place.

He also said his group wanted to make sure the regulations were "not simply
a disguise to bail out companies" if their experimental crops end up in
food.

Gene Grabowski, a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, said
food companies would have preferred the safety assessment be made mandatory
to send a stronger signal to consumers.

The biotechnology and food industries have already been stung by some
incidents of contamination. Most notable was the case when genetically
modified StarLink corn, which had been approved only for animal feed, was
found in taco shells and other foods, causing large recalls and severely
hurting American corn exports.

In April, Monsanto and Aventis CropScience, two developers of genetically
modified crops, said some genetically modified canola seeds not approved in
the United States might have found their way into farmers' fields.

The proposed new policies would go through a period of public comment and
might take months to become effective.

 

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