ISIS Report 22/12/04
US to Rubber Stamp Transgene Contamination
US set to approve contamination of food supply with unauthorised test
crops. Mae-Wan Ho and
Sam Burcher report
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a proposal on 24
November 2004 to allow experimental GM crops grown on "test" sites to legally
enter the food chain. The proposal is open for comment until 24 January
The FDA proposal came in response to a 2002 Bush administration
initiative in the wake of widespread contamination of US food supplies and
exports in 2000 with unauthorised Starlink GM corn, which continued to be
detected in the US grain supply and in food shipments to Bolivia, Japan and
South Korea as recently as autumn 2003.
FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford described the proposed policy as "a
high priority for the Administration and the industry, to enhance public
confidence, avoid product recalls, and provide an international model" for
similar policies around the world.
The new policy sets out loose "safety assessment" guidelines under which
a company may voluntarily consult with the FDA to have its experimental GM crop
material deemed "acceptable" as a food contaminant. The "safety assessment"
consists of paperwork and two inadequate tests that the FDA estimates will take
companies just 20 hours to complete; and does not include animal feeding trials
or tests for unintended effects caused by genetic modification. This would then
give biotech companies the legal cover to allow their experimental GM crops to
enter the US food supply. The US biotechnology and grain industries are already
calling on the US government to "vigorously promote global adoption" of this
It is already virtually impossible to test for the presence of
experimental GM food crops in foods imported from or processed in the US,
because over two-thirds of US field trials of experimental GM crops involve one
or more genes classified as confidential which therefore cannot be
Bill Freese, research analyst with Friends of the Earth (US) said,
"FDAs new proposal has nothing to do with food safety, its designed
to provide biotech companies with legal cover for contaminating the food supply
with experimental biotech traits. Such contamination has happened in the past
and has cost biotech companies more than $1billion." Aside from Starlink,
another experimental GM corn containing a pharmaceutical sprouted in a field of
soya one year after the trial crop had been harvested. ProdiGene, the makers of
the GM corn, paid out millions of dollars in damages and a $250 000 fine,
although the product never reached the food chain.
Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Europe added: "Because of the
secrecy behind experiments in the United States, no one - not food companies,
not even governments - will be able to test food products or food imports for
contamination because they wont know what to test for. This will leave
consumers worldwide exposed to new risks from genetically modified foods."
Those experiments that are known to the public include crops with
radically altered nutritional content for use as animal feed or anti-fungal
compounds that resemble food allergens. Others include crops engineered to be
resistant to chemical herbicides, produce their own insecticides or have
sterile pollen or seeds. The FDA is also considering a similar proposal to
allow residues from experimental pharmaceutical crops to enter the food chain.
(See Ban Plant-based Transgenic Pharmaceuticals
Juan Lopez from Friends of the Earth International said: "The Bush
Administration, with the active support of the biotechnology industry, is about
to force their untested genetically modified experiments into the worlds
food supply. This proposal should be ringing alarm bells in every consumer,
every food company and every food agency of the planet."
In line with the same policy proposal, Prof. Joe Cummins at the
University of Western Ontario points out, "USDA [US Department of Agriculture],
which regulates organic certification, has proclaimed that organic food crops
polluted with modified genes from wind-borne pollen released from neighbouring
farms will still be certified as organic food." (See "GM sugar beet gone sour",
ISIS report, 9 December 2005, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GMSBGS.php).
More information at Friends of the Earth International Action Alert:
Submit your comments by 24 January 2005.
Through the FDA website (Docket ID"2004D-03692) at
Or send written comments, referencing Docket ID2004D-0369 to FDA
Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration,
5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061, Rockville, MD20852, USA
FDA release of the policy was announced at:
FDAs draft policy is available at:
FOE Press release. Anger over US plans to allow GM contamination on
food, Nov 23
Bad seeds, Crop Choice News 24 Aug. 2004
FoE briefing paper: