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3-Food: Australian scientists blame GE food tests as 'inadequate'

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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  GM-food tests 'inadequate'
SOURCE: The Age, Australia, by Geoff Strong
DATE:   October 29, 2000

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GM-food tests 'inadequate'

Australia's food regulator has been accused of approving a range of 
genetically modified food products without adequate scientific testing. A 
group of scientists conducting a study for the Public Health Association of 
Australia examined the procedures surrounding the applications for release 
of three genetically modified foods: two corns and a canola given 
preliminary approval by the Australian and New Zealand Food Authority. All 
three were products from the US-based multinational food-science company 
Monsanto and were approved subject to endorsement by the Council of 
Australian and New Zealand Health Ministers. In their report, the 
scientists claimed that in one case laboratory rats fed the herbicide-
tolerant genetically modified canola were found to have livers enlarged by 
up to 16per cent, yet further testing to find the cause was not considered 

Other concerns included:
An insect-resistant corn containing a new protein designed to rupture the 
gut of certain grubs had never been fed to large numbers of humans and the 
protein's potential toxicity was discussed only briefly. The supporting 
documents given to the food authority relating to this corn claimed any DNA 
implanted during genetic modification would be destroyed by manufacturing 
processes, but did not refer to the likelihood that the corn and corn waste 
would be fed to animals bred for human consumption.

In an application for a corn engineered to be tolerant to Monsanto's 
herbicide Roundup, the company admitted two amino acids in a modified 
protein were different from those in conventional corn but declined to 
provide scientific details on the grounds of commercial confidentiality.

In the case of the herbicide-tolerant canola, the scientists ask why 
laboratory rats were fed canola mash in tests and not the canola oil humans 
would consume. When the rats were found to have liver weights up to 16 per 
cent higher than normal, this was attributed to levels of a chemical found 
in the raw plant. Further tests to determine whether this increase might be 
the result of an unknown substance were deemed unnecessary, the scientists 
said, even though the amount of the raw plant fed to the rats was within 
established safety limits.

The scientists' report was submitted to the food authority last week and 
has also been sent to the health ministers. It points out that all of the 
assessments done by the authority were based on internal publications from 
Monsanto or from another US food company, Optimum Quality Grains. It claims 
none of the documents was published in scientific journals subject to peer 
review, the normal procedure for scrutinising scientific research.

It also found that the results of tests to determine the composition of 
genetically modified foods were statistically inadequate because of the 
small sample sizes used when compared to those for non-modified food. In 
the case of the canola, only two samples were analysed. "With such low 
numbers it is almost a foregone conclusion that a statistically significant 
difference will not be found between the GM food and the non-GM food," the 
scientists said. They argue that a sample size of at least 50 would be 
needed to get an accurate picture.

One of the authors of the report, Adelaide-based epidemiologist and 
biochemist Judy Carman, said it appeared the food authority was prepared to 
allow Australians to eat modified food that had undergone almost no 
independent scientific safety assessment. "Essentially all of the safety 
evidence has been obtained by the applicant company," she said. "The 
precautionary principle that could be described as `unsafe until proven to 
be safe', has been around for centuries to guide us in conditions of 
uncertainty. Yet ANZFA has officially adopted the opposite approach; that 
is, they permit 18.7 million Australians to eat GM foods based on a 'safe 
until proven unsafe' philosophy." Dr Carman said the only way an 
independent scientist or other member of the public could check the science 
was to personally visit the food authority's offices in Canberra.

The scientists' report refutes claims that modified DNA is destroyed by 
digestion. It cites a range of research on experimental mice in which 
foreign DNA survived digestion and lodged itself in other organs, including 
the foetuses of animals. A spokeswoman for the food authority refuted 
claims that the approvals were based on inadequate science. Nora Galway 
said all research submitted to the food authority had to be independently 

"We require statutory declarations that there have been appropriate 
recording mechanisms and good laboratory practice," she said. Dr Galway 
said none of the foods had been released for public consumption, and had 
been given only preliminary approval. She said in the case of the 
laboratory rats fed the herbicide-tolerant canola, it was agreed it was 
more appropriate to feed them mash than oil because they would have to have 
been fed very large amounts of oil to get an accurate result. A spokeswoman 
for Monsanto said the company always cooperated fully with the requirements 
of the food authority.

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