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NZ Has Strong Grounds for Rejecting Corn Decision

NZ Has Strong Grounds for Rejecting GM Lysine Corn Decision

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

New Zealand has strong grounds for rejecting the application to make GM
lysine corn a legal food. Significant health risks remain untested and the
credibility of New Zealand's food safety regulation will be eroded unless it
stands aside from the current assessment report.

The Trans-Tasman food safety regulator, FSANZ, has cleared the lysine corn
for approval, but Food Safety Minister Annette King has wisely "paused" her
decision and is assessing whether New Zealand should stand aside from
Australia's approval.

GM lysine corn - known as LY038 - was never intended to be a human food.
However, if this animal feed is approved as a food, it would minimise legal
risks for the developer.

Aspects of the assessment conducted by FSANZ raise serious concerns
according to a detailed review by the Sustainability Council, released
today. While FSANZ states that it takes "an explicitly cautious approach" to
food safety, the Sustainability Council does not believe this was the case
for the assessment of LY038.

There were a series of decision points at which a regulator acting with
precautionary intent would have investigated a risk, rather than assume this
was not warranted, the Sustainability Council states. FSANZ could have
reserved judgement or asked the developer to provide further scientific

In order to satisfy its own safety standard, the regulator needed to
demonstrate that LY038 was as safe as ordinary corn. The Sustainability
Council believes it did not employ enough science to show whether this is or
is not the case.

FSANZ has put forward certain findings that cannot be drawn from the
information presented in its assessment report, but are instead assertions.
These claims undermine trust and confidence not only in the
LY038 decision but the regulatory system as a whole, according to the
Sustainability Council.

This case study has wider significance because it identifies deficiencies in
FSANZ assessment processes that could apply to other applications. It also
sets an Australian precedent for the assessment of food plants that have
been genetically modified to make industrial products (including biofuels
and pharmaceuticals) - a precedent New Zealand should not adopt.

At two critical points in the FSANZ approval process, Annette King has
called for a review or further advice rather than let the application
proceed normally. Those actions have been consistent with a precautionary
approach on her part. Now the question is whether she will take that
approach through to reject the FSANZ recommendation and insist on stricter
requirements for assessing GM foods in the future. She deserves
acknowledgement for her efforts to date and public support to stay the

When examining the wider potential effects of an LY038 approval, FSANZ did
not conduct an adequate cost benefit analysis, the Sustainability Council
states. None of the three benefits put forward is a valid public benefit,
and FSANZ did not count the public health risks that remain in absence of
adequate safety investigations. If a value were placed on the residual
health risks, and the absence of public benefits was acknowledged, the cost
benefit analysis would show that an approval would result in net costs to
the public.

FSANZ also has a statutory duty to consider alternatives to an approval that
would be "more cost-effective". Had it examined these, this should have
revealed that the most cost-effective option was not approving
LY038 and allowing lysine to continue to be added separately to animal feed.


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