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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 Government's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [1].

If the proposal is accepted it could to lead to GM pollution of food consumed in Europe. It is impossible to test for the presence of experimental GM material in foods imported from or processed in the US, because over two-thirds of US experimental GM crops contain genes classified as confidential, and which therefore can't be detected.

The US proposals, which could be accepted in 60 days from 25 November, will reduce the legal liability on biotech companies and will act as a major disincentive for them to control GM field tests. Contamination is therefore likely to increase.

Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner, Emily Diamand, said:

"The US seems determined to push GM food down the world's throat, regardless of the consequences. Instead of insisting on strict controls to prevent experimental GM crops contaminating the food chain, the Bush administration is proposing to legalise this pollution, with unknown consequences for human health and the environment. This reckless proposal should ring alarm bells for every consumer, food company and Government across the planet."

The FDA has allowed a period of 60 days from the 25th of November for responses to its proposals. Friends of the Earth is urging all concerned citizens, companies and government authorities around the world to make objections to the US government, in the strongest possible terms, against this attempt to contaminate the world's food supplies with experimental GMOs.

Experimental GM crops are currently permitted to be grown on a minimum of 23,000 hectares (ha) in the United States, and some individual test sites are over 400 ha in size. The approved area 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. 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-producing GM crops in the near future.

A briefing paper with more information is available at: (PDF format)


[1] FDA release of the policy was announced at:

[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

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Published by Friends of the Earth Trust