Canadian Science Panel Urges More Caution on GE Foods

Scientists tell Canada to be more cautious on GM food
Updated 5:29 PM ET February 5, 2001By Julie Remy

TORONTO, (Reuters) - Canada should improve testing of genetically modified
food products and ensure the public is more engaged in their regulation, a
panel of scientists recommended Monday.

The 15-member panel, created in December 1999 at Ottawa's request, said the
attitude of the federal government's health department, Health Canada,
towards the new GM industry was not sufficiently cautious and that it was
too close to major biotech companies.

"There is a definite lack of transparency in the current process," said Dr.
Brian Ellis, co-chair of the Royal Society of Canada panel and professor of
biotechnology at the University of British Columbia.

He criticized the secrecy surrounding testing and regulations enacted by the
Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which he said also carries out a
promotional role for biotech products. "There is a perception of conflict
there, and it seems very inappropriate to us," he said in an interview.

The 260-page report recommended creation of an independent review panel to
try to ensure that experiments approved by regulatory agencies are meeting
scientific standards.

As one of the world's major grain exporters, Canada is already the third
most important user of transgenic crops -- after the United States and
Argentina -- and Ellis said that half of the processed food in Canada
contains extracts of transgenic canola, soybeans and corn.

Ellis underlined the need for a long-term monitoring program and for the
public to become more engaged in the process.

Health Canada official Karen Dodds told Reuters the department was examining
ways to improve transparency, but was confronted with confidentiality laws
that are stronger in Canada than in the United States.

"Health Canada agrees with the intention of being more transparent. It's a
matter of how far we can go given current legislation," she said.

Dodds said the government was trying to establish a surveillance system to
monitor GM's long-term health effects.

Ellis regretted that Canada has not taken Europe's wait-and-see approach and
has approved GM products before having all the data. "Changes are taking
place so fast that we don't even have baseline data that we can compare to.
We are already playing catch-up."

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