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
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
"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
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
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.