Natural Foods Merchandiser

GE Update: Modified Genes On The Loose

A recently released study from the European Environment Agency, the EU environmental data body, confirmed the worst fears of environmentalists and members of the organic industry: Transgenic genes will inevitably escape from genetically modified crops, contaminating organic farms, creating superweeds and driving wild plants to extinction.

The study, "Genetically Modified Organisms: The Significance of Gene Flow Through Pollen Transfer," concluded that gene flight can occur over long distances, and that some varieties of GM crops interbreed with others at higher frequencies and at greater distances than previously thought.

Additionally, according to the study, the three GM crops currently being field tested in England—corn, sugar beets and oilseed rape—might pose the greatest potential for cross contamination of all varieties examined.

Proponents of GE technology have always asserted that as long as a boundary zone is maintained around GM crops, cross-pollination could be stopped. But cross-pollination of GM oilseed rape was recorded at two-and-a-half miles from the crop, vastly outreaching the 600 meter isolation distance. That finding led to the conclusion: "Under current farm practices, local contamination between crops is inevitable."

Crawford Says Labels To Be Delayed
Newly appointed deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Lester Crawford testified before the House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee regarding the agency's position on voluntary labels for nongenetically engineered foods.

He said that companies wishing to promote their products as being made without GE ingredients must wait until the government establishes an acceptable protocol for determining the validity of the claims. Crawford said an inspection system that includes company tests and agency oversight would need to be created. "If it's on the label, it has to be true," Crawford told the subcommittee. "And it's up to us to be sure that it is."

Crawford added that FDA must determine an allowable level of GE ingredient presence and said it could take the agency years to write a proposal. Natural products industry members are already at work outlining internal guidelines for a non-GM label standard (see "Natural Execs Aim To Establish Non-GM Label Standard," NFM, April 2002).

The deputy commissioner also said the term cold pasteurization was ruled out as an alternative to irradiation labels. Consumer focus groups found the term to be a ruse to conceal the fact the food had been irradiated.

China Bows To U.S. Demands On GE Food Imports
In response to U.S. pressure, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture announced in March a temporary certification plan for imports of genetically engineered foods. China had written a strict set of safety and paperwork requirements for foreign companies importing GE foods into the country. But U.S. trade officials negotiated a nine-month transition period.

At the heart of China's regulations was the requirement that each company wishing to import products to China prove that GE products were harmless to humans, animals and the environment.

President George W. Bush, in two separate visits to China, impressed on the newest member of the World Trade Organization that the regulations threatened to hold up the $1 billion in annual trade in soybeans between the United States and China, about 70 percent of which are genetically engineered.

Under the new scheme, the Ministry will issue temporary safety certificates to companies if they have a similar approval from their own or another country.

Other trade conflicts between China and the United States probably played a role in the GE foods dispute. U.S. officials alleged that the regulations did not reflect legitimate food safety concerns but were an attempt by China to protect its domestic soybean market, which stands to be adversely affected by cheap foreign imports.

Ironically, earlier in March, President Bush slapped safeguard tariffs of 8 percent to 30 percent on several types of imported steel in an effort to help the ailing U.S. steel industry.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 5/p. 12

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