friends of the earth international
november 23, 2004
us plans to allow experimental gm crops
to contaminate food
washington, dc(us)/ brussels (belgium) --
Plans to allow contamination of human food
crops with biotech or genetically modified
(GM) experimental crops grown on 'test' sites
will be published tomorrow Wednesday by the
US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In sixty days from Nov. 24 the new proposal
could be accepted, reducing the legal
liability on biotech companies and acting as
a major disincentive for them to control GM
field tests. Contamination is therefore
likely to increase.
It is impossible to test for the presence of
experimental GM food crops in foods imported
from or processed in the US, because over
two-thirds of US experimental GM crops
contain genes classified as confidential
which therefore can't be detected.
Juan Lopez from Friends of the Earth
"The Bush Administration, with the active
support of the biotechnology industry, is
about to force their untested genetically
modified experiments into the world's food
supply. This proposal should be ringing alarm
bells in every consumer, every food company
and every food agency of the planet."
Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Europe
"Because of the secrecy behind experiments
in the United States, no one - not food
companies, not even governments - will be
able to test food products or food imports
for contamination because they won't know
what to test for. This will leave consumers
worldwide exposed to new risks from
genetically modified foods."
Experimental GM crops are currently
permitted to be grown on a minimum of 23,000
hectares in the United States, and some
individual releases are over 400 ha in
size. The approved acreage for GM crop
tests since the late 1980s is over 200,000
ha. They include crops engineered for
herbicide or insect resistance, altered
nutritional properties, or sterile pollen or
seeds. Other crops generate
pharmaceuticals or anti-fungal compounds that
resemble proteins that cause food
The US government is not proposing any
maximum threshold for 'inadvertent'
contamination of food, feed and seed stocks
from experimental sites.
The new policy sets out loose 'safety
assessment' guidelines under which a company
may voluntarily consult with the FDA to have
its experimental GM crop material deemed
'acceptable' as a contaminant in food.
The 'safety assessment' is based on paperwork
and two inadequate tests that the FDA
estimates will take companies just 20 hours
to complete. The proposed review also
excludes testing for unintended effects
caused by genetic modification. This
inadequate review would grant biotech
companies the legal cover to allow their
experimental GM crops to enter the American
food supply. And the US biotechnology
and grain industries are already calling on
the US government to "vigorously
promote global adoption" of this policy
Bill Freese, Research Analyst with Friends
of the Earth US said:
"Allowing conventional food to be
contaminated by experimental crops is a
recipe for disaster. What is even more
unbelievable is that the Bush Administration
wants to promote this policy around the world
as an international model."
Since over two-thirds of experimental GM
crops grown in the US contain genes
classified as confidential, there is little
public information about what genes are being
tested. Without this basic information,
laboratories will be unable to look for their
presence in food products. This will have
serious consequences for food companies
wishing to avoid such contamination and
Governments carrying out checks on imports.
Neither will be able to detect the
contamination as they won't know what they
are looking for.
The FDA policy comes in response to a 2002
initiative by the Bush Administration.
FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford describes
the policy 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 
In January, the US Dept. of Agriculture
proposed a similar policy for its sphere of
GM crop regulation (plant pest risks).
Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to issue
its own contamination approval policy
applicable to pesticide-producting GM crops
in the near future.
for more information
A briefing paper with more information is
William Freese, Friends of the Earth US,
Adrian Bebb, Friends of the Earth Europe,
+49 1609 490 1163 (Germany); email:
Juan Lopez, Friends of the Earth
International, +39-333-1498049 (Italy);
 FDA release of the policy was
FDA's draft policy is available at:
 "US Grain Industry, BIO Urge US
Government to Expedite 'Trace-Amounts' Policy
for Biotech Products," press release,
Biotechnology Industry Organization, National
Grain & Feed Association, and other trade
groups, April 7, 2004,
 Lester M. Crawford, Acting Commissioner
of the FDA. Speech before The U.S.
Vatican Mission's Conference "Feeding A
Hungry World: The Moral Imperative Of
Biotechnology," September 2004
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