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). [1]

Media Advisory
Friends of the Earth International
November 23, 2004

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 International said:
“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 added:
“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 allergies.

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 [2]

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 [3]

In January, the US Dept. of Agriculture proposed a similar policy for its sphere of GM crop regulation (plant pest risks). The Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to issue its own contamination approval policy applicable to pesticide-producting GM crops in the near future.


A briefing paper with more information is available at:

William Freese, Friends of the Earth US, 301-985-3011

Adrian Bebb, Friends of the Earth Europe, +49 1609 490 1163 (Germany)

Juan Lopez, Friends of the Earth International, +39-333-1498049 (Italy)

[1] FDA release of the policy was announced at:
FDA’s draft policy is available at:
www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/bioprgui.htm .

[2] “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,

[3] 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 www.agbioworld.org