Food authority accused over GM decisions
KELLY BURKE, CONSUMER AFFAIRS REPORTER
Sydney Morning Herald, 21 October 2008
THE food authority responsible for approving genetically modified products has been accused of pandering to agrochemical giants at the expense of consumer health, in a report set to be released today analysing the authority's recent decisions.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand is gambling with the health of consumers, the director of the University of Canterbury's Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety, Professor Jack Heinemann has warned, and is one of only a few regulators to have approved every application for genetically engineered food products.
"Many other regulators have at least stood up once where FSANZ appears to have cowered under industry or political pressure," Professor Heinemann said, describing the authority as the victim of "flawed legislation that mixes the goals of trade and public health".
Over the past 12 years the authority has approved more than 50 varieties of genetically engineered crops, from corn and soy to potato and sugar beet, the report, compiled by Greenpeace, found. Among the products approved despite what the organisation described as a weight of harmful evidence were:
- A strain of corn (MON863) by Monsanto found to cause liver and kidney toxicity when fed to rats in a peer-reviewed French scientific study last year.
- A Syngenta-manufactured corn (GE alpha-amylase) specifically designed to be used in bioethanol production and not intended for human consumption, yet with the potential to enter the human food chain through unchecked US imports.
- Another Syngenta corn (GE Bt10) approved by the authority despite being banned by the European Union and Japan because no safety assessments have yet been conducted.
- A Monsanto canola, still the subject of debate in the European Union and banned outright in Austria, after Monsanto's own testing found increases in liver sizes in rats by up to 16 per cent.
Endorsing the report, Professor Heinemann said many of the authority's decisions on genetically engineered food were based on assumptions, and "picking and choosing only the science [the authority] wants to believe". Moreover, while in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South Africa more stringent food labelling laws are being passed, in Australia genetically engineered products such as oils, starches and sugars as well as meat, milk, cheese and eggs produced by animals that have been fed genetically engineered crops still require no labelling. Food from restaurants and takeaway outlets is also exempt.
The report notes that current labelling legislation is at odds with the ALP's national platform and constitution published last year, which stated that the party supported comprehensive labelling of genetically modified food.
The minister responsible for food labelling, Senator Jan McLucas, has not responded to the Herald's queries.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Ageing defended the authority, saying all decisions on genetically engineered food were the result of "careful assessment of human health and environmental risks".
Kay McNiece said: "The safety assessment process is based on internationally accepted methods and approaches." This was endorsed by the World Health Organisation.
EXTRACT: "Many other regulators have at least stood up once where FSANZ appears to have cowered under industry or political pressure," Professor Heinemann said, describing the authority as the victim of "flawed legislation that mixes the goals of trade and public health".