Washington, D.C. – Federal agencies should improve their monitoring of genetically engineered crops to ensure they don't harm the environment or human health, government investigators say.
In at least six incidents since 2000, unapproved versions of biotech crops got into the food and feed supply, and there are likely to be more because it is so easy for plant genetic material to spread, according to a report released Friday by the Government Accountability Office.
The report urged the three federal agencies in charge of regulating biotech crops – the Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency – to work more closely together to evaluate and monitor crops, including those already on the market. A concern scientists have is that the use of herbicide-tolerant crops could lead to the spread of weedkiller-resistant weeds.
The report also called on the FDA to post on its Web site safety evaluations of biotech crops. FDA officials said that they would try to do that but that other concerns have taken a higher priority.
The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, plans to get commitments from the incoming Obama administration "to pay closer attention to these issues," said Kate Cyrul, a spokeswoman for the panel.
Harkin "will also keep the pressure on the responsible people in the agencies to improve coordination," she said.
Both the USDA and the EPA are responsible for monitoring research plots. But the USDA doesn't have the resources to inspect all sites, and neither the EPA nor the states it has delegated the job to has made such inspections a priority, the investigators said. Most contamination incidents have been reported by the crop developers.