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Criticism of NZFSA 'tired and unfounded'

10 October 2008 Media Statement

Criticism of NZFSA 'tired and unfounded', Dalziel says

Criticisms by a lobbyist of the New Zealand Food Safety Authority's (NZFSA's) risk management processes are tired and unfounded, Food Safety Minister Lianne Dalziel said today.

"There is nothing new about Simon Terry's allegations against NZFSA's processes. They get made every time NZFSA makes a decision Mr Terry doesn't agree with, but why he's chosen to wait months to make this latest attack is clearly nothing more than political game-playing and unfounded scaremongering with the election looming," Lianne Dalziel said.

The Authority's review of a report into MON 863, a variety of genetically-modified corn, was fully transparent and all documents relating to the decision-making process and advice to the Minister had been publicly available on NZFSA's website since late last year (http://www.nzfsa.govt.nz/consumers/gm-ge/r-gm-brief.htm), Lianne Dalziel said.

"The complaints are tired and ill-informed. NZFSA earlier this year underwent a completely independent review of its risk management processes. In April Dr Stuart Slorach, an international expert in the field of food safety risk assessment, found that NZFSA's risk management processes are amongst the best in the world. As expected, he identified room for improvement and this has been accepted by the NZFSA and the government which released its response to Dr Slorach's report last month."

The government has approved NZFSA's new mandate which Lianne Dalziel said was simple and unambiguous:

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"The New Zealand Food Safety Authority's mandate is 'to protect consumers by providing an effective food regulatory programme covering food produced and consumed in New Zealand as well as imports and exports of food products.'

"This is followed by a list of guidelines that must be applied in observing the mandate, including that NZFSA must 'base risk management decisions designed to protect consumers on sound science and an evidence base, applying precaution when faced with scientific uncertainty'.

"It ends by stating: 'In pursuing this mandate the overriding priority will always be to protect consumers'.

"Frankly, it couldn't be any clearer than that and I am disappointed that Simon Terry, who has had this information for months as it is publicly available on NZFSA's website, is only now raising it as an issue. I can only ascribe political motives to the timing of his obsolete agitating for the government to do something that we have already decided to do. "

The government continues to follow the recommendations of the 2001 Royal Commission on genetic modification which included an endorsement of the safety assessment process for GM food by trans-Tasman food regulator Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

The safety assessment Mr Terry refers to took place in 2003. NZFSA and other international food safety agencies keep a watching brief for any new research on food and food ingredients and where necessary review that research to see if has any bearing on past safety assessments. This is what happened in 2007 following a French study of MON863. NZFSA considered reviews of the French study carried out by ESR, FSANZ and the European Food Safety Authority and concluded that there was no reason to re-examine the safety assessment of MON863. All the reports are on NZFSA's website.


Contact: Elspeth (Ellie) McIntyre, Press Secretary, ph 04 471 9397 cell 021 227 9397
All Lianne Dalziel's media statements and speeches are at www.beehive.govt.nz/lianne+dalziel


Background on MON863 review

• MON863 was approved by FSANZ in 2003 and gazetted in NZ in April 2004

• MON863 is approved for use as food in New Zealand, Australia, United States, Canada, Japan, China, European Union, Korea, Mexico, the Philippines and Taiwan.

• Greenpeace commissioned study by Seralini et al published in early 2007 claiming to have found differences indicating liver and kidney toxicity in rats fed MON863 corn.

• The Seralini study didn’t present new raw data, but involved a statistical reanalysis of data from an original Monsanto 90-day rat feeding study that was submitted to EFSA. The differing conclusions between the two studies were the result of the use of different statistical tests.

• NZFSA Commissioned ESR to evaluate the statistical methods used in the Seralini study and to provide an independent expert opinion on both the study and its significance in relation to the FSANZ approval of MON863 corn

• ESR submitted a draft report to NZFSA in April 2007 and a subsequent report in June 2007. The report stated that “Toxicological concerns were raised by Séralini et al that cannot be refuted without further study”. However the cover letter to the report stated that “no conclusions can be drawn as to the safety or otherwise of MON863 for human consumption based on the two studies alone”.

• When considering a GM food application FSANZ requires applicants to submit data on the nature of the genetic modification, the presence of any antibiotic resistance genes, a characterization of the novel protein, characterization of any other novel substances, compositional analyses, information on the nutritional impact, and information on overseas approvals (or refusals to approve).

• Animal feeding studies using whole foods (the type of study on which the Seraini study is based) can also be submitted by applicants as part of the data package. Such studies may provided confirmation that a GM food is nutritionally adequate and that it will support typical growth and well being. However, they cannot be relied upon to give information about the potential toxicity of a food.

• The international guideline on the safety assessment of GM plants states that “animal studies cannot readily be applied to testing the risk associated with whole foods”.

• As such, FSANZ does not normally require animal feeding studies to be included in the safety assessment of GM foods. Where GM varieties have been shown to be compositionally equivalent to conventional varieties, feeding studies using target livestock species add little to a safety assessment and are generally not warranted.

• EFSA review of Seralini study published on 25 June 2007 stated that there is “no evidence presented that would warrant a change to the conclusions already reached by the EFSA GMO panel on the safety of MON863 corn”.

• FSANZ review of Seralini study published in July 2007 stated that "FSANZ reaffirms its risk assessment of genetically modified corn MON863".

• When the ESR report was received by NZFSA in June 2007 key staff were not available to consider it. When they became available the EFSA and FSANZ reviews had been published. As such, NZFSA requested that ESR update their report to take account of these international reviews, which were not available to ESR when they submitted their report on 13 June 2007. ESR subsequently updated its findings in a letter on 12 October 2007.

• NZFSA submitted both ESR reports to the Minister for Food Safety along with a briefing explaining the course of events and copies of the EFSA and FSANZ reviews. These documents have been available on NZFSA’s website since late 2007.

• On the basis of the extensive pre-market safety assessments carried out on MON863 corn by several countries and the reviews of the Seralini study by FSANZ, ESFA, ESR and NZFSA, NZFSA determined that there is no evidence presented in the Seralini study that would justify revising the previous conclusions of regulatory authorities on the safety of food derived from MON863 corn.


New Zealand Food Safety Authority Statement of Mandate
September 2008

The New Zealand Food Safety Authority’s mandate is to protect consumers by providing an effective food regulatory programme covering food produced and consumed in New Zealand as well as imports and exports of food products.

In delivering this mandate, the Authority is to:

• engender high levels of trust and confidence in the New Zealand regulatory programme covering food and related products both domestically and internationally

• base risk management decisions designed to protect consumers on sound science and an evidence base, applying precaution when faced with scientific uncertainty

• apply the principles of openness and transparency

• engage with stakeholders including consumers and industry sectors

• minimise the costs of regulatory actions/interventions, recognising the economic benefits to domestic and export food businesses and the flow-on effects in consumer food prices

• communicate food risks, hygienic practices and nutritional information as far as these are known and relevant to the food supply and consumer behaviour

• recognise that there are New Zealand customs and practices that involve the non-commercial hunting, gathering and/or preparation of food where the public does not expect regulatory intervention

• utilise any capacity to improve business opportunities for domestic and export focussed food industries

• maintain the integrity of official assurances provided to importing countries’ governments

• work at the multilateral and bilateral level to ensure neither international standards nor importing country standards pose unjustified ‘technical barriers’ to trade

In pursuing this mandate the overriding priority will always be to protect consumers.

Ends


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