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Scientists warn risks due to lack of GE food tests

Scientists warn of risk to consumers from lack of tests on GE food

Moves by Britain’s food authorities to have GE corn approved for sale in Europe has prompted scientists to repeat warnings that insufficient testing is being done on GE foods before some governments - including New Zealand – allow them for sale.

According to a report in The Independent (below) the attempt to approve GE corn has caused conflict with the UK Ministers for the environment and agriculture and has again revealed that GE foods are being “assessed” and approved without proper testing, creating a potentially serious public health risk.

New Zealand authorities have refused to undertake independent testing of GE products approved for sale here. In New Zealand up to 20 GE foods are allowed to be sold without authorities being able to say when or where they have been imported and with no labeling required for any sales through take-aways, cafes and restaurants. "The pressure that they are waging to release grow and sell their products seems to know no bounds. It is bullying to the nth degree," says Claire Bleakley of GE Free NZ In food and environment.

"What is so awful is they are refusing to do any safety testing to find out if these products are detrimental in any way. Syngenta, Seminis and other large seed companies are not allowing data to become freely available to the regulators of the countries they are entering. The data they are providing cannot be verified and they are refusing to acknowledge data that is coming from good independent sources," says Ms. Bleakley. The government is “picking losers” by backing GE food projects with public funds. It is a disgrace to waste so much money and valuable resources. We already have a system in place for reduction in pesticide use through IPM (Integrated Pest Management) and organic. If Organics had 100 million dollars of FRST taxpayer funded money the whole country would be able to see the benefits of the method.

“There are clearly benefits from a GE Free positioning for New Zealand that must be preserved, as it encompasses both conventional and organic methods. The government policy to allow GE release continues to threaten our economic well being because of flawed market research and biotech industry lobbying,” says Jon Carapiet.

ENDS

references:

TITLE: UK to fight European embargo on GM corn

SOURCE: The Independent, UK, by Geoffrey Lean
DATE: Nov 9, 2003

Extracts:The move to approve the sweetcorn - developed by the biotech firm Syngenta and incorporating an insecticide - will be made by a European Union committee. The Food Standards Agency, which represents Britain on the committee, is pushing for it to be given the green light, against the wishes of environment and agriculture ministers. ...

But the Austrian government report shows that the applications - including the one for the sweetcorn to be considered tomorrow - fail even this undemanding requirement. It says that the concept is used "to argue for the safety" of every GM product it considered, but added: "The parameters chosen ... are not comprehensive enough to justify substantial equivalence and/or to detect probable unintended secondary effects."

November 10, 2003 Study Raises Doubt About Allergy to Genetic Corn By ANDREW POLLACK New York Times Remember StarLink corn? Three years ago this genetically engineered corn was found in taco shells and other foods, even though it had not been approved for human consumption. The discovery prompted food recalls and disrupted farm exports. Dozens of consumers claimed they had suffered potentially dangerous allergic reactions after eating food thought to contain the corn. But a paper appearing today in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reports that one vocal consumer who complained about allergic reactions turns out not to have been allergic to StarLink corn after all. The report casts further doubt on whether StarLink caused allergies, and it is likely to buttress contentions long made by biotechnology supporters that the dangers of StarLink were overblown. The journal article discusses the allergy testing of a 58-year-old man at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center who had complained of at least three allergic reactions to StarLink. The paper does not identify the man, and the authors declined to comment, citing medical confidentiality. But Keith A. Finger, a Florida optometrist, said in an interview that he was the subject and that he had asked to be tested. Dr. Finger, along with two others, sued the developer of StarLink and some food companies, winning a settlement in which the companies pledged to provide $6 million worth of food discount coupons. Dr. Finger said he received $10,000 because of the suit. In the test, the subject was given StarLink corn, other corn and a placebo on different days, without him or the doctors knowing which was which. There was no sign of an allergic reaction on any day. The test is the "gold standard" of food allergy testing, said Dr. Marc E. Rothenberg, a professor and allergy expert at the medical center and an author of the report. The new evidence, he said, "supports the view that there was no problem in terms of allergy," although he said it would be better to test more people. StarLink, developed by Aventis CropScience, contained a bacterial gene to make the plant pest-resistant. It was withdrawn from the market, even for its previously approved use as animal feed. StarLink Logistics, a company Aventis set up to handle legal claims, had no comment Friday. But even the new results are not likely to lay the issue completely to rest. Scientists still cannot predict in many cases whether a genetically modified food will cause allergies. And Dr. Finger says he is still sure that he is allergic to StarLink. "I'm glad they did the test," he said of the Cincinnati doctors. But he added, "I was really perplexed as to why nothing happened."

More clone data needed FDA advisory committee not satisfied with available data on cloned animal products By Merrill Goozner The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is promising to come up with more studies on the safety of food products derived from cloned animals after half the members of a key advisory committee said last week that they didn't have enough information to sanction the move.

“We promised to get the information out to the committee by the end of this year,” said Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine. The FDA is under pressure from the nascent cloning industry to treat meat and dairy products from cloned animals and their offspring the same as other food. A staff report released in late October said that the FDA's review of the scientific literature turned up no evidence that food products derived from cloned animals should be regulated, or even labeled.

But several scientists at last week's Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee meeting were deeply troubled by the lack of scientific evidence backing the staff report.

“The assumption made was that there would be no problem, but they didn't present any real evidence one way or the other,” said Sherman Jack, a professor of pathobiology at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University. “The FDA made a plea several times during the hearing that [the industry] come up with more data.” The FDA usually follows the recommendations of its outside advisory committees.

Top FDA officials are confident that they will be able to answer the questions raised by the 12-member advisory committee. Sundlof said the FDA still plans to make its final cloned foods risk assessment available for public comment before the end of the year. If the assessment concludes the risks are minimal, the FDA's risk management strategy, which it hopes to release next spring, could forgo additional regulation or labeling.

“We have not identified any hazard that is contributed by the cloning process to this point,” Sundlof said. “We still need to know if the food is identical. The information presented this week suggested it is not different from traditional foods.”

The major roadblock is the paucity of studies. There are only a handful of companies involved in cloning. And since cloning a single cow or pig under existing technology costs nearly $20,000 and companies have voluntarily held off from introducing the progeny of cloned animals (their most likely use) into the food supply, there are very few animals to test.

“Most of the data presented this week was based on the result of one company's work,” said Jack. “There's no evidence yet to base a go/no-go decision.”

The one consumer advocate on the committee, Richard Wood of the Chicago-based Food Animal Concerns Trust, echoed Jack's concerns about the lack of data on food safety. He also questioned whether the FDA was the only agency with the authority to regulate food derived from clones.

Several outside consumer groups that testified at the hearing suggested the Department of Agriculture should require labeling on food products derived from clones. Even the Environmental Protection Agency may be asked to get involved. “Does this cloning process change the flora in the guts of the clones, and does this change the pathogen mix in such a way that it represents a threat to humans once it is in the environment?” Wood asked. “We need more data.”

Demands for more studies and the specter of court challenges to the FDA's sole jurisdiction over cloned foods could postpone their arrival until 2005 or later.

Links for this article US Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine http://www.fda.gov/cvm/default.html

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