GMO flexibility call from big food and feed firms
NOTE: The link to the Union of Concerned Scientists' report - "Gone to Seed" - referred to in the comments below about contamination of the U.S. seed supply is
Europeans are right to be skeptical about accepting assurances of the safety of GMOs regulated and approved in the U.S. The U.S. review of the food safety of GMOs is considerably weaker than the EU system (which itself suffers from some considerable weaknesses). Our Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not actually approve GMO foods as safe, but relies on the assurances of the very companies that produce these foods to decide how to test them. Although FDA performs a review during its voluntary safety assessment, it does not conclude by approving the safety of the food, but reminds the company that it is the company's responsibility to assure that the food is safe. No animal feeding studies are required or even recommended, and in fact there are no specific tests required. Even for pesticidal crops like Bt corn that are regulated by our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), animal feeding studies are carried out for only about four weeks, which will often be incapable of detecting many long-term effects.
This process is being driven not by legitimate food safety considerations, but by the clear inability of GE and food companies to prevent contamination by GE crops. In a study we published in 2004, corn, soy, and cotton seed that was supposed to be non-GMO consistently had GMO contamination. This contamination was common, typically considerably more than 50 percent of all samples were contaminated, but contamination was usually at relatively low levels, typically at or below 1 percent.
Because contamination is so pervasive, Europeans should not expect that contaminated food will be an exception, or that it typically would be at extremely low levels. Based on our tests and others, it would be common, and would often be at levels close to whatever the accepted limits would be (assuming they will be set at or somewhat below 1 percent).
Instead of pushing for an unwise relaxation of EU standards, why are the food companies not pressing the U.S. to adapt safety standards at least up to those of the EU? Instead of cowering in the face of U.S. pressure, why aren't your weak-kneed regulators publicizing the weakness of the U.S. system and demanding more?
Doug Gurian-Sherman, Ph.D.
Food and Environment
Union of Concerned Scientists
1825 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006-1232
www.ucsusa.org ( http://www.ucsusa.org/ )
NOTE: We're seeing a consistent pattern here of joint lobbying by the biotech industry with other giant agribiz interests - first for "biofuels" and now for "flexibility" on GMO acceptance, in an opportunistic promotion of their own interests and profits.
EU food, grain industries call for GMO flexibility
By Jeremy Smith
Reuters, June 12 2008
BRUSSELS - Leading companies in Europe's vast food industry joined forces on Thursday with key players in much of the EU grain sector to demand tolerance for tiny amounts of genetically modified material not yet allowed in EU markets.
EU feedmakers have long complained of problems sourcing raw material, warning that the consequences of Europe's extreme caution and "zero tolerance" of unauthorised GMOs, could be disastrous for the food and feed sectors.
Europe's food safety chief has already promised to draft a proposal before early August that would permit very limited amounts -- less than one percent of unauthorised GM material to be detected in imports of foods like maize, rice and soya.
EU law sets a threshold of 0.9 percent for GM material in food and feed, above which a cargo must be labelled as biotech.
As with most areas of biotech policy in the European Union, the zero-tolerance issue has proved sharply divisive: both among EU countries, and between industry and environment groups.
Green groups strongly oppose the idea of letting unauthorised GMOs, even in tiny amounts, into EU markets. The biotech industry says it is impractical and unrealistic not to accept that they will occasionally be found in import cargoes.
"It is simply impossible to guarantee the total absence of GM traces from countries where GM crops are widely grown," said Ruth Rawling, chairwoman of the food and feed safety unit at Coceral, the EU's major grain trade lobby, in a statement.
The problem for GM crop-growing countries, in particular the United States, Canada and Argentina, is that EU law at the moment does not tolerate the accidental presence of unauthorised GMOs that have been approved elsewhere.
That has led to cargoes of rice and grain arriving at EU ports being impounded by local authorities if sampling shows the presence of unauthorised GM material, disrupting trade flows.
The statement was published jointly by Coceral, the EU's main food industry association CIAA, animal feed manufacturers' body FEFAC, the Federation of European Rice Millers, as well as flour and maize millers' associations.
CIAA's members include top food companies such as ADM, Cadbury Schweppes, Danone and Unilever, to name but a few.
The six-strong group commissioned a study on the impacts of GMO zero-tolerance on Europe's food sector, saying it led to extra costs, legal uncertainty and increasing reliance on imports. Small and medium-sized businesses were most at risk.
"The European food industry is urging policymakers to seek practical and durable solutions," the statemenet said.
EU livestock producers depend heavily on imported soy products -- beans, meal as a source of protein-rich and high-quality feed. Nearly all of it comes from Argentina, Brazil and the United States, the world's top three soybean producers.
Since these countries mainly grow GM varieties, non-biotech soy is becoming increasingly difficult to source, they say. But green groups do not want any changes, arguing that to alter zero-tolerance policy would be dangerous and unnecessary.
"Zero tolerance and the speed of GMO approvals do not need to be changed. These issues will not make any difference to the EU livestock industry's current crisis," environment groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe said last month.
(Reporting by Jeremy Smith , Editing by Peter Blackburn)