9 July 1999

GMs make USnews

GENETICALLY modified crops continue to hit the headlines in the US, with a new maize variety producing a pharmaceutical product in the field, changes to management rules for GM insect tolerant varieties and claims that the US government has not based GM decisions on sound science.

The first commercial genetically modified maize engineered to produce a pharmaceutical product is doing well in Nebraska this summer.

The crop will produce a special protein called Avinin, at a cost 95% less than when it is made from grain. Farmers are to get a 50% premium for the crop.

A number of other speciality GM maize varieties in the pipeline will provide cheap base materials for a range of products from plastics to motor oil in future.

Meanwhile, the US Environmental Protection Agency has increased the Bt maize refugia area from the current 4% to 40% of a farmers sowings. The aim is to provide an area of conventional maize for insect pests to breed in, so minimising the potential for insects developing resistance to the Bt toxin, which could arise if only genetically modified Bt maize is grown.

In this significant turnabout the EPA wants farmers growing Bt maize to plant at least 40% of their maize area in non-Bt varieties next year.

Seed companies and producers had lobbied hard for a 20% refuge requirement, arguing that this was enough to delay development of resistance by at least 10 years.

Finally, a US environmental group says it has evidence that US Food and Drug Administration approval of GM foods is not science based. 44,000 pages of internal records obtained as part of a lawsuit show FDA scientists warning that genetic engineering is profoundly different from traditional breeding and that GM foods could not be considered substantially equivalent to non-GM foods, the group claims.

The records show the FDA is operating under a directive to foster the US biotech industry, it says. The directive is also claimed to advocate the premise that bio-engineered foods are essentially the same as others.

Although special testing of GM foods was advocated by a variety of FDA scientists, they were classified as substantially equivalent and generally recognised as safe, the group notes. No testing was done.