Frankenfood Safeguards Inadequate

Study Calls Biofood Safeguards Inadequate

Agriculture: Current system could miss signs of environmental
harm, National Academy of Sciences says.

February 22 2002

The government's system for regulating genetically engineered
crops is inadequate to prevent environmental damage from new types
of vaccine- and chemical-producing crops coming to market in the
next few years, according to a study released Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture should more rigorously review
genetically modified crops before approving them for commercial
use and monitor them more closely after approval, said the report
by the National Academy of Sciences.

The agency has said consistently there is no evidence the
genetically modified corn and soybeans so widely planted in recent
years have harmed the environment. However, the report said,
without "systematic monitoring, the lack of evidence of damage is
not necessarily lack of damage."

Among examples of such plants, some corn is being tested that will
produce a protein that will serve as a vaccine against hepatitis
B. Another protein derived by moving chicken genes to corn could
be used as a chemical in labs.

As plants with stacked genes and other multiple genetic
modifications hit the market in the years ahead, the USDA must
more carefully weigh the environmental risk and make more
information about these plants readily available to the public,
the report said.

The USDA needs to seek outside scientific peer review of crop
applications and advice on changes in regulatory policy, the
report said.

And it said the agency needs to more actively solicit public

Biotechnology companies now submit about 1,000 applications to the
USDA each year for review.

They keep much of that information secret from the public by
classifying the material as business secrets, the report
said--even as the same data is made public in Europe and Canada.

The USDA, which requested the study after critics accused it of
lax regulation, is supposed to ensure that hardier, gene-altered
crops don't develop into super-weeds or harm insects and other

However, companies can field-test crops just by "notifying" the
USDA that the plant meets its guidelines on environmental effects.

And once these crops are approved, they generally can be grown
anywhere in any amount farmers choose.

Crops that produce their own pesticides are regulated more
stringently, because they are handled by the Environmental
Protection Agency under a different law.

Fred Gould, a North Carolina State University scientist who led
the study, said the problems it cited amounted to "small

"We are offering suggestions for a system that is functioning.
We're not condemning the system," Gould said.

Officials from the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Administration,
which oversees the crops, said they have begun working to address
some of the weaknesses highlighted in the report.

Times wire services contributed to this report.

*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this
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