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9-Misc: Canadian food safety administration accused of conflict of interest



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TITLE:  Conflict of interest charge returns in biotech debate
SOURCE: Western Producer, Canada, by Barry Wilson
        http://www.producer.com/articles/20020221/news/20020221news18.html
DATE:   February 21, 2002

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


Conflict of interest charge returns in biotech debate

As the House of Commons health committee opened hearings on policy for 
labelling the food products of genetic modification, the government's chief 
regulator of food safety found itself again on the defensive about its ties 
to the biotechnology industry. GMO opponents Greenpeace Canada and the 
Canadian Health Coalition released documents suggesting the federal 
government has spent $3.3 million to promote the safety of GM foods. The 
two groups suggested it was an unholy alliance in which the regulator was 
teaming up with the regulated.

"The Canadian Food Inspection Agency should be regulating the biotech 
industry, not covertly promoting it," said Bradford Duplisea of the health 
coalition, during the hearings two weeks ago. On Parliament Hill, MPs 
uneasy about the safety of GM foods jumped on the well-timed release of the 
funding information. "Aren't you running the risk of being seen as the 
mouthpiece of the biotech industry?" asked Winnipeg New Democrat Judy 
Wasylycia-Leis when CFIA officials appeared before the health committee 
Feb. 7. The issue also was raised by anti-GMO MP Suzanne Tremblay of the 
Bloc Québecois.

The officials challenged the numbers but also said they were not promoting 
biotechnology. Peter Brackenridge, CFIA vice-president, told MPs the 
government spends money to explain the food regulatory system to consumers 
and to assure Canadians that any foods approved for sale in Canada are 
safe, however they were created. "We are a regulator and we are not in the 
promotion business," he told MPs. The agency helps fund public information 
about how the food regulatory system works. "It is largely a response to 
questions from consumers."

But critics see government funding of advertising about the safety of GM 
foods as promotion of the industry. Even within the ranks of biotechnology 
supporters in Parliament, there is unease about Agriculture Canada's dual 
role of overseeing regulation through the CFIA and promoting genetic 
modification through research. Critics fan the flames of that unease.

Holly Penfound, biotechnology campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, said the 
Food Biotechnology Communications Network and the Consumers Association of 
Canada, partners with CFIA in advertising food safety, are too close to the 
biotech industry. The federal government should choose its allies more 
carefully, and it should move away from its position of favouring voluntary 
labelling for GM foods. "They're busy paying for Monsanto's front groups to 
try and make the public accept the untested experiment that is genetic 
engineering," Penfound said.

 

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