GENTECH archive


INFO: GM news outside the USDA control (fwd)

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Date: Thu, 11 May 2000 03:56:35 -0700 (PDT)
From: MichaelP <>
Subject: INFO: GM news outside the USDA control

The Toronto Star/ The Montreal Gazette/ Ottawa Citizen  May 10, 2000

OTTAWA -- Delegates from around the world are, according to this story,
struggling to reach a compromise on the controversial issue of labelling
genetically modified foods at a conference this week and the man chairing
Codex Alimentarius, a United Nations commission on food standards, said an
international agreement is crucial and may come out of the Ottawa meeting.
Thomas Billy, was quoted as saying, ``Establishing international consensus
on food standards is not a luxury but a necessity in this modern world,''
and that food producers and processors need international standards to
compete in global markets and consumers need to know the food they eat is
safe and properly labelled.

The stories say that officials are considering two options: Labelling only
genetically altered foods known to pose a risk to health, for example,
foods that include something that might trigger an allergic reaction.
Labelling all genetically altered foods that are different from the
original or contain protein or DNA resulting from gene technology. The
United States has led arguments for the first proposal, while European
Union countries prefer the broader second option. Canada - a leading
player in the international biotech industry - has aligned itself with the
Americans in the debate. But Canadian officials sounded more conciliatory

Bart Bilmer, an official with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, was
quoted as saying as the four-day meeting began that, ``We recognize that
there are good elements in both proposals. Canada has always been open to
innovative solutions.''

The stories note that the Codex commission, responsible for international
food standards, has been grappling with the labeling of GMOs (genetically
modified organisms) since 1966. About 165 countries are represented at the

Brewster Kneen  of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network was quoted
in an interview as saying, ``Initially, industry thought they could just
put this stuff out there and it would be taken up. They've been pushed
further and further back every year.''

Kneen was further cited as saying that Japan has moved toward mandatory
labeling and Australia is expected to follow while the European Union has
mandatory labeling, adding, ``Three years ago, the U.S. had a whole
grouping of countries together; now the U.S. doesn't have any unequivocal
support. It's all qualified if it's there at all.''

Michael Phillips of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a U.S. trade
group, was quoted as saying, ``There is no reason to put information on a
label that could easily be misconstrued,'' and  that there is no
difference between genetically altered food and food produced by
conventional means. Joyce Groote of BioteCanada was cited as denying that
the industry fears labeling would result in rejection of its products in
the marketplace, adding, ``We believe that if labels are abused in any
way, consumers may not understand what they're reading.''

Groote was further cited as not commenting on whether the industry is
losing the battle, adding, ``It's not a question of winning or losing.
It's a question of making sure these products are safe all along.''

Richard Wolfson of Ottawa-based Consumers' Right to Know was cited as
saying the UN process is slow but much more democratic than Canada's
national mechanisms for dealing with food-safety issues.

In related news, Canada's auditor general will intervene in a public
application aimed at forcing a sweeping overhaul of the system for
regulating genetically modified food.

Auditor General Denis Desautel's office has, the Citizen story says,
agreed to act as ombudsman in the country's first formal challenge of the
federal regulations used to study and approve gene-spliced food, animals,
fish and trees.

The challenge was launched by a group of scientists and environmentalists
concerned about what they describe as alarming gaps in the existing system
used to regulate genetically engineered food.

They are demanding the government set higher scientific standards for
testing the potential environmental and health hazards of these products.
In particular, they are calling on the six federal departments responsible
for overseeing genetically modified food to publicly account for a system
that's based, they say, on shoddy science and a cozy relationship with the
biotechnology industry that government is supposed to regulate.

Melanie Steiner, a lawyer with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, was quoted
as saying, ``The current system is woefully inadequate.''

A similar challenge was launched in the United States last year with a
lawsuit filed by a citizen's coalition against the Food and Drug
Administration, the agency in charge of safeguarding what Americans eat.
In addition to seeking tougher regulations for genetically modified food,
the suit demands that laws be put in place to force manufacturers to
clearly label foods altered by biotechnology. The case, which ended
hearings last July, is now in the hands of a judge.

Supporters of the challenge see the auditor general's involvement as a
first offensive that could eventually trigger a full-scale review of the
how adequately the federal government carries out its regulatory duties
aimed at protecting the environment.

But industry representatives defended the present regulatory system and
dismissed the public challenge as unnecessary. Joyce Groote of
BIOTECanada, an industry association was quoted as saying, ``These
products have been more closely assessed for risk than most products.''

Under federal law, Canadians concerned about the government's role in
environmental protection can appeal to the auditor general. After
reviewing the application, the office's environment commissioner then has
the power to compel the appropriate government agencies to respond within
120 days. If applicants are not satisfied with the government response,
they may launch a followup appeal.

Since the Canadian Environmental Protection Act was enacted in 1996, the
provision has been used 23 times, but this is the first application to
deal specifically with biotechnology.

Richard Smith, acting environment commissioner, was quoted as saying, ``It
is a very thoughtful petition in that sense. What they (the coalition)
have a right to is a thoughtful response.''

Public attacks on the credibility of the country's food-safety system has
not diminished since last fall, when 200 scientists from Health Canada's
Health Protection Branch signed a petition that, among other things,
raised alarm at the acute shortage of scientists for evaluations and risk
assessments of genetically modified foods.


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