Oversight of transgenic plants, animals sought in new bill

WASHINGTON, DC, June 18, 2004 (ENS): A bill introduced in the Senate Wednesday would require a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review of all genetically engineered foods and an environmental review to be conducted as part of the safety approval process for genetically engineered animals.

The Genetically Engineered Foods Act, introduced by Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, would create a transparent process to inform and involve the public as decisions are made about the safety of all genetically engineered foods and animals.

Presently, genetically engineered foods are screened by the FDA under a voluntary consultation program. Durbin's legislation would make this review program mandatory and strengthen government oversight.

"Genetically engineered foods have become a major part of the American food supply in recent years, and many of the foods we consume now contain genetically engineered ingredients," said Durbin. "These foods have been enhanced with important qualities that help farmers grow crops more efficiently. However, they have also raised significant concerns as to the safety of these foods and the adequacy of government oversight."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) "strongly backs" the Durbin bill, saying that today companies can market transgenic foods without even informing the Food and Drug Administration.

"Although the United States is the world leader in producing genetically engineered foods, it is the only developed country where those foods can be marketed to consumers without government approval," said Gregory Jaffe, director of CSPI’s biotechnology project.

"The Durbin Bill gives the federal government the authority to ensure that genetically engineered crops and animals are safe before they are eaten without burdening the biotechnology industry with an unnecessarily costly and lengthy regulatory process."

In May, CSPI released the report, "Sowing Secrecy The Biotech Industry, the USDA, and America's Secret Pharm Belt," which addresses the controversial practice of using genetically engineering to produce drugs or industrial chemicals in food crops. The Durbin Bill would prevent commercialization of such crops until FDA has conducted a thorough assessment of their potential food-safety risks.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture now takes the position that genetically engineered crops are substantially the same as conventional crops, so no special government testing or oversight is necessary.

Durbin's bill would make scientific studies and other materials submitted to the FDA as part of the mandatory review of genetically engineered foods available for public review and comment. Members of the public could request a new review of a particular genetically engineered food product even if that food is already on the market.

The FDA has a mandatory review process in place that is used to review the safety of genetically engineered animals before they can enter the food supply. This bill would provide the FDA with additional powers to regulate the potential environmental impact of genetically engineered animals.

Durbin cited a survey conducted by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, which found that 89 percent of Americans support a mandatory pre-market approval process conducted by the FDA to ensure the safety of genetically engineered foods.


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