WASHINGTON, D.C., November 23, 2004, Friends
of the Earth: A new policy to be published
tomorrow in the Federal Register by the US Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) would allow contamination
of the American food supply with experimental genetically
engineered (GE) material that escapes from GE crop test
plots . The policy sets out loose "safety assessment"
guidelines under which companies may voluntarily consult
with the FDA to have their experimental biotech traits
deemed "acceptable" as contaminants in food.
"With this policy, the government is condoning
the contamination of our food and seed supply with genetic
material from thousands of biotech crop experiments,"
said Bill Freese, a research analyst with Friends of
Government records reveal that over 40,000 separate
GE crop field tests have been authorized on over half
a million acres since 1987 in the US. Roughly 1,000
field trial authorizations are currently in effect,
spanning over 56,000 acres.
"FDA's new proposal has nothing to do with food
safety, it's designed to provide biotech companies with
legal cover for contaminating the food supply with experimental
biotech traits," said Freese.
FDA's proposed "safety assessment" is based
on paperwork and two inadequate tests that FDA estimates
will take companies just 20 hours to complete. The proposed
review does not involve safety tests in animals, and
it excludes testing for unintended effect caused by
genetic engineering. It also sets no limits on the amount
of contamination allowed in foods.
The field tests include crops genetically engineered
for herbicide or insect resistance, altered nutritional
properties for use as animal feed, and sterile pollen
or seeds. Others are engineered to produce pharmaceuticals
or anti-fungal compounds that resemble proteins that
cause food allergies.
"Nearly half the genes in experimental biotech
crops in the ground right now are kept confidential
as trade secrets of the biotech companies," said
Government data compiled by Friends of the Earth reveals
that 47% of the genes in current field trials are listed
as "confidential business information."
The FDA's proposal comes in response to a 2002 directive
from the Bush Administration. FDA Commissioner Lester
Crawford described it as "a high priority for the
Administration and the industry, to enhance public confidence,
avoid product recalls, and provide an international
model" for similar policies around the world .
The US biotechnology and grain industries are calling
on the US government to "vigorously promote global
adoption" of similar rules .
In January, the US Dept. of Agriculture proposed a
similar policy for its sphere of GE crop regulation
(plant pest risks). The Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) is expected to issue a corresponding proposal
applicable to pesticide-producing GE crops in the near