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3-Food: Canadian authorities are unable to check GM food



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TITLE:  Gene-tooled food going unchecked
SOURCE: The Province, Canada
DATE:   May 14, 1999

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Gene-tooled food going unchecked 

OTTAWA - The federal Health Department has admitted it can't adequately assess the growing number of genetically engineered foods being developed by industry. "We must strengthen our capacity in the genetics area," Deputy Health Minister David Dodge told the Senate agriculture committee yesterday. "We do not at the moment have that capacity on board." He said hundreds of genetically altered products are expected to enter the market soon, but genetic scientists capable of assessing such products are scarce and in high demand. "Our great problem is that everybody wants these people," he said.

Dodge rejected allegations the health protection branch of his department has become reliant on data and expertise supplied by biotech companies. But committee members continually expressed concerns about the approval process. Committee chairman Leonard Gustafson said the issue worries Prairie farmers because of a recent sharp drop in the price of canola. The drop came after foreign scientists raised health concerns about genetically engineered canola, one of Canada's most important export crops. Dodge conceded there is strong public concern about genetically altered foods. "This is an extraordinarily emotional issue. Information is absolutely critical."

Senator Eugene Whelan asked why the department issued gag orders against scientists who opposed the use of Revalor H, a hormone used to promote growth in beef cattle. Margaret Haydon, a health department scientist, recently told the committee her research raised significant concerns about the product but she was ordered to be silent. Dodge said a public servant is not free to speak in public about whatever he or she pleases: "That applies to me and everyone in the department." Joe Losos, associate deputy minister, said an external panel concluded Haydon's concerns about Revalor H were unjustified. Hormone-treated beef is the topic of a major trade dispute between Canada and the European Union, which maintains the product may pose human health risks.



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