CSPI hails Durbin GE foods bill; scientists petition for approval process

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25 scientists call for mandatory approval of biotech crops

Legislation introduced by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) that would establish a mandatory approval process to assure the safety of genetically engineered (GE) foods was lauded today by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Currently, companies can market GE foods without even notifying the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), let alone getting its approval.

This legislation is essential if this promising new technology is to gain consumer acceptance,” said Greg Jaffe, director of CSPI’s biotechnology project. “The bill establishes a transparent approval process, and provides opportunities for public input along the way, without significantly raising costs for industry. We think it deserves the broad support of the biotechnology and food industries as well as environmental and public health advocates.”

The legislation comes on the heels of a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that found that current laws do not adequately meet the environmental concerns presented by transgenic animals. Senator Durbin’s bill gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) broad authority to assess and address those concerns, says CSPI. In the case of the fast-growing transgenic salmon under review at the agency now, for instance, FDA would be required to affirm that those fish do not present a danger to the ecosystem.

“Congress needs to act to ensure that applications of this promising technology are safe to humans and the environment,”said Eric Hallerman, associate professor of fisheries and wildlife at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. “This bill gives the FDA the authority to address many of the concerns set forth in the recent NAS report.” Hallerman was a member of the NAS committee on animal biotechnology.

Hallerman is also among 25 prominent scientists who have signed a CSPI petition calling for congressional action to close critical gaps in the regulation of bioengineered crops. Others include Fred Gould, professor of entomology and genetics at North Carolina State University, C.S. Prakash of Tuskegee University, and Lynn Goldman, MD, of Johns Hopkins University.

“The FDA has had its head in the sand anticipating that public concern over genetically engineered foods would eventually dissipate,” said Gould, a member and chair of two recent NAS committees on plant biotechnology. “The FDA must develop a GE food safety assessment system that will be worthy of public confidence.”

CSPI believes that the genetically engineered foods already on the market are safe to eat and that biotechnology holds great promise for reducing the use of environmentally-damaging pesticides. But CSPI has also advocated stringent approval processes for genetically engineered foods and for major reforms in the uneven regulatory standards that govern GE plants and animals.