FEARS GROW AS US PONDERS LIFTING GM CROP SAFEGUARD By Paul Andersen

 THE US government’s Food and Drug Administration has published plans to allow the mixing of human food crops and experimental GM crops grown in test sites.

The US proposals, which could become official policy in two months” time, will reduce the legal liability of biotechnology companies if admixing occurs.

Friends of the Earth has warned the proposals could lead to GM contamination of food and feed consumed in Europe and elsewhere.

 Since more than two-thirds of US experimental GM crops contain genes classified as confidential, it is impossible to test for their presence and hence to detect them, an FoE spokesman said.

This means that it would be impossible to find out if feed or food imports from the US contained GM ingredients or not, he added.

 FoE also warned that the reduction of liability would remove the incentive for biotechnology companies to control their GM test sites, so that contamination was likely to increase.

 HIGH PRIORITY

 FDA commissioner Lester Crawford has described the policy as “a high priority for the administration and the industry, to enhance public confidence, avoid product recalls and provide an international model”.

The new proposals set out safety assessment guidelines under which a company may voluntarily consult with the FDA to have its GM crop material judged “acceptable” as a food ingredient.

The proposed assessment excludes testing for unintended effects caused by modification.

American regulatory agencies are often cited in support of the safety of GM foods, but the authors of a peer-reviewed paper published in the journal Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Review, have claimed the US regulatory system is in many ways flawed.

David Schubert, of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and FoE research analyst Bill Freese claimed that it is quite possible for GM crops to enter the US market-place without having been reviewed in terms of their potential health impacts.

This is because the Department of Agriculture does not evaluate health impacts and since biotech companies are only encouraged, not required, to consult with the FDA regarding new varieties. The authors also point out that the FDA has left it to the biotech industry to decide whether a transgenic protein in a crop should have “generally recognised as safe” status.

“One thing that surprised us is that US regulators rely almost exclusively on information provided by the biotech crop developer, and those data are not published in journals or subjected to peer review,” said Dr Schubert.