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7-Misc: Malaysia works on biosafety law

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Malaysia: Panel given three months to draft law on biosafety
The New Straits Times

KUALA LUMPUR, March 28 - The Genetic Modification Advisory Committee 
(GMAC) has been given three months to come up with the first draft of 
national legislation on biosafety.
It will regulate the introduction, use and handling of genetically 
modified organisms (GMOs), Science, Technology and Environment Minister 
Datuk Law Hieng Ding said today.
Work on the proposed Gene Act is expected to be completed by year's end, 
in a bid to keep up with rapid developments in food and plant 
"We will have to decide whether to have a single comprehensive law on 
biosafety or a sectoral one, as several agencies are involved in 
biosafety issues."
"With this decision, it will also be possible to identify the agency that 
will be responsible for enforcement."
GMAC, set up under the ministry's National Committee on Biodiversity in 
1996, will look at legislation in use in Europe, the Philippines and 
Scandinavian countries.
While the labelling of genetically modified foods would be addressed, Law 
said it did not necessarily mean that this would be made mandatory here.
Consumers in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan are actively 
campaigning for mandatory segregation and labelling of transgenic crops 
and foods.
"GMAC will have to take into account the impact of labelling on 
downstream products of our export commodities like palm oil and cocoa," 
Law said.
"It is not possible for us to take a stand on the issue immediately, as 
we will have to examine how the national position would be affected by 
such a move."
GMAC will work with authorities like the Ministries of Health, 
Agriculture and Primary Industries on related issues, and may consult 
private biotechnology companies on the law "if the need arises".
Another key provision of legislation will be on an "advance information 
agreement" to keep track of the entry of GMOs into the country, and to 
reduce associated risks.
Law also confirmed that GMAC would initiate an awareness and education 
programme on biosafety and biotechnology, so that the public was kept 
informed of related issues.
"The ministry is seriously concerned about consumer apprehension about 
genetically modified foods and its effect on human health," he said.
As the relevant government agencies, universities and a non-governmental 
organisation, Third World Network, were represented in GMAC, decisions 
would reflect all concerns.
On consumer calls to ban the import of transgenic (gene-altered) soyabean 
following the recent link between this and allergic reactions, Law said 
available scientific findings and documents would be studied.
However, no moratorium would be imposed on the import of transgenic 
soyabean for food and animal feed here "until findings to the contrary" 
with regard to its safety for human health.
Transgenic soyabean has been available in Malaysia since GMAC approved 
its import in 1997 based on documents supplied by the producer, Monsanto.
This is the biggest of five transnational firms developing and marketing 
transgenic food and industrial crops like wheat and corn.
(Copyright 1999)

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