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Report: Regulation system allows genetically-modified foods to enter food supply


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Recommendations consistent

GM foods common component in processed foods


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A report Thursday claimed the system for regulating genetically-modified (GM) foods has loopholes that allow manufacturers to market the products with little government oversight.

The document, "Breeding Distrust: An Assessment and Recommendations for Improving the Regulation of Plant Derived Genetically Modified Foods" was prepared for the Consumer Federation of America Foundation (CFAF) under a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

It found little mandatory federal regulation of any genetically-modified plant product, and no federal standard for human safety. The document claims the current regulatory approach relies heavily on the principle that GM foods are substantially equivalent to non-GM foods and therefore assumed to be safe. That approach allows many of these products to enter the market without the formal FDA safety determination that is required for food additives, according to the report.

The debate over genetically engineered foods is growing. Some of the benefits and risks:

More information from AsiaWeek
(Source: AsiaWeek)

"FDA allows manufacturers complete freedom to assert a new product is 'substantially equivalent' to an existing food," said Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Consumer Federation of America's Food Policy Institute, "Products declared 'substantially equivalent' do not require any safety testing before they are sold to the public. Not surprisingly, all of the products now on the market were declared by their manufacturer to be substantially equivalent and safe."

The FDA would not comment on the report, which calls for changes in the marketing of genetically-engineered foods, including:

  • Abandoning the 1992 FDA assumption that most GM foods are essentially the same as non-GM foods and therefore not subject to lengthy FDA safety reviews required for "food additives."
  • Extensive health and environmental testing of GM food products by both manufacturers and academics, including government-sponsored, long-term testing of the consequences of introducing GM plants into the environment and the food supply.
  • Requiring manufacturers to put labels on or near all food products containing more than a negligible amount of GM material to give consumers the option to avoid them.
  • Requiring manufacturers to notify regulatory agencies of plans to market GM foods and making those plans available for public comment, along with as much health and safety testing data as possible.

Recommendations consistent

The recommendations in this report are consistent with those from other consumer watchdog groups in the United States. GE Food Alert -- a coalition of organizations concerned with the protection of consumers' rights, public health and the environment -- launched a nationwide campaign last July about the risks associated with genetically-engineered foods. The highlight of that campaign occurred in September when it announced that Starlink corn had been found in Taco Bell brand taco shells.

GE Food Alert's campaign was in response to the FDA's May 2000 announcement that it would propose regulations on genetically-engineered food -- calling for only a voluntary labeling implementation and voluntary consultation with GM food manufacturers about their products

Some consumer coalitions are insisting on mandatory labeling.

"Consumers are demanding it and it's potentially a way of tracking a problem, if a problem does arise," said Matt Rand, a spokesman for GE Food Alert.

The Center for Food Safety led a legal petition of consumer groups to the FDA in March 2000, calling for mandatory labeling and pre-market safety testing of all GM products.

"FDA has yet to respond to this petition," Rand told CNN.

GM foods common component in processed foods

The Biotechnology Consultative Forum, of which Tucker Foreman was a part, commissioned by the Clinton Administration and the European Union, recommended in December 2000 that the U.S. government tighten regulation of genetically-engineered foods. Among the changes: mandatory labeling of genetically-engineered foods.

The GE Food Alert includes the National Environmental Trust, The Center for Food Safety, Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), Friends of the Earth, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network North America and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

Consumers won't necessarily find genetically-modified tomatoes or other GM foods on sale in the supermarket produce section, but genetically-engineered foods have made their way into products such as soy burgers, french fries, corn chips, some cotton seed oil, chocolate and corn sweeteners.

"Food companies, which once thought mention of genetically-engineered ingredients would be a selling point, now are afraid of consumer rejection," said Larry Bohlen, director of health and environment programs at Friends of the Earth. "Today, without labels, customers do not know whether their purchases have theses ingredients or not."

Greenpeace last year presented "The Shoppers Guide to GM," a list of items commonly found in supermarkets that allegedly contain genetically-modified food products.

"What these lists demonstrate is that we have been safely consuming foods containing biotech ingredients for nearly a decade now." said Gene Grabowski, with the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the industry trade group representing brand name food companies. "This is what the food industry has been saying all along, that biotech ingredients are in more and more foods every day and that they are as safe and nutritious as non-biotech foods."

Scientists complete first genetic map of a plant
December 13, 2000
Expert: StarLink biotech corn a test case for regulatory needs
November 30, 2000
Experts: worries about biotech corn are overblown
November 14, 2000
Should you fear franken-corn?
November 10, 2000
EPA: Consumers complaining of reactions to biotech corn found in food supply
October 30, 2000

U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA)
Greenpeace International -- Genetic Engineering
Greenpeace -- True Food Shopping List
EPA - What Are Biopesticides?
USDA - Agricultural Biotechnology
Consumer Federation of America (CFA)
CFA statement on Genetic Modification of Foods
Genetically Engineered Food Alert

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