Under Pressure American Medical Association Announces it
Will Revise its Policy on Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods

Pesticide and Toxic Chemical News, Volume 27, Number 45 September 2, 1999

by: Kathleen Hart

AMA to revisit policy on genetically engineered crops

In response to the British Medical Association's call for new studies on
the safety of genetically modified foods and increased interest by U.S.
consumers, the American Medical Association has decided to review its
10-year-old policy on agricultural biotechnology.

The AMA's only policy on genetically engineered foods was developed in
1990, six years before the genetically engineered corn and soybeans now
prevalent in the American diet were grown commercially for the first time.
The policy promotes biotechnology as beneficial to society, but it provides
no scientific information on the safety of genetically engineered crops for
human consumption or the environment.

"We recognize the policy is stale and needs to be revisited"; Barry
Dickinson, secretary of the AMA's Council on Scientific Affairs and senior
scientist in the unit on science, research and technology, said in an
interview Aug. 31. "It's the only policy we have, and I think it reflects
the way things were 10 years ago, but a lot of things have happened since
then, with the British Medical Association coming out and saying they were
revisiting the issue."

In May, the British Medical Association issued a 14-page statement which
cited a
critical need for more information about the potential allergenicity and
possible toxicity of genetically modified (GM) foods (See Pesticide and
Toxic Chemical News May 20, Page 3). British physicians rejected the notion
that GM foods should be assumed to be safe because they are "substantially
equivalent" to their conventional counterparts, the principle which
provides the basis for U.S. regulation of biotech foods. "The possibility
that certain novel genes inserted into food may cause problems to humans is
a real possibility,
and `substantial equivalence' is a rule which can be used to evade this
biological fact," the BMA stated.

The British physicians said it may be "too simplistic to regard all genetically
modified plants or food, as one category, either safe or dangerous, and
each individual case will need to be examined carefully."

The AMA House of Delegates policy on "Biotechnology and the American
Agricultural Industry" adopted in 1990, is as follows:

"It is the policy of the AMA to (1) endorse or implement programs that will
convince the public and government officials that genetic manipulation is
not inherently hazardous and that the health and economic benefits of
recombinant DNA technology greatly exceed any risk posed to society; (2)
where necessary, urge Congress and the federal regulatory agencies to
develop appropriate guidelines which will not impede the progress of
agricultural biotechnology, yet will ensure that adequate safety
precautions are enforced; (3) encourage and assist state medical societies
to coordinate programs which will educate
physicians in recombinant DNA technology as it applies to public health,
such that the physician may respond to patient query and concern; (4)
encourage physicians, through their state medical societies, to be public
spokespersons for those agricultural biotechnologies that will benefit
public health; and (5) actively participate in the development of national
programs to educate the public about the benefits of agricultural

Dickinson said the AMA staff has been getting an increased volume of calls
on the question of the safety of genetically modified foods. The Council on
Scientific Affairs decided during its June meeting to "revisit the issue"
next year. However, he noted that in light of the growing interest in the
subject, some consideration may be given to putting the issue on a faster

CRC Press LLC 1999