August 20, 2002
Consumers Union Says National Academy of Sciences Report Underlines
the Need for Labeling and Safety Tests of Genetically Engineered Animals
YONKERS, NY–Consumers Union (CU) states that a new National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report to be released tomorrow, "Animal Biotechnology: Science-Based Concerns," underlines the critical need for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish safety and labeling regulations immediately in the fast-moving field of genetically engineered animals.
With new technologies, animals may be genetically engineered or cloned to produce food, industrial or research chemicals or pharmaceutical products. Insects can also be engineered. The authors of the NAS report were charged by the FDA to identify the science-based risks and concerns associated with products of animal biotechnology.
"Consumers Union has consistently urged the government to require labeling, a comprehensive regulatory framework, and a full safety assessment for the food supply and the environment before genetically engineered animals are allowed into the marketplace. The FDA has been saying for several years that it would develop a policy on how they intend to address genetically engineered animals and get public input, but thus far the agency has failed to act. The NAS report underscores the need for immediate action on these fronts," says Michael Hansen, Ph.D., a researcher with Consumers Union’s Consumer Policy Institute.
"The report also describes a number of significant food safety and environmental problems that could be caused by the genetic engineering of animals. In addition, it raises the question of ‘whether edible products of genetically engineered animals have been screened adequately,’" Hansen adds.
Hansen highlighted the following problems cited in the NAS report:
- Adverse implications for products of genetically engineered animals. Scientists have genetically-altered (engineered) experimental cows to produce antibiotics in their milk to keep them from getting udder infections. The NAS report states that such milk could alter the balance of bacteria in consumers’ intestines, affecting their digestion, and also foster antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
- Absence of safety assessment data. The report found this to be true of animals cloned from somatic cells (any cells from the body, except for sperm and eggs). The report states "There is currently no data to indicate whether abnormalities in patterns of gene expression persist in adult clones and are associated with food safety risks, nor is there substantial analytical data comparing the composition of meat and milk."
- Controversy over labeling for consumers. The report states that "there are reasons, beyond safety or nutrition, for a consumer to want labeling of food derived from genetically engineered plants or animals, including religious, ethical, right-to-know, or simple preference reasons." Consumers Union believes that all genetically engineered animals and cloned animals going into the food supply, including fish, poultry, and meat should be labeled and that consumers have a fundamental right to know what they are eating.
- Confused and divided regulatory responsibility. For example, the report identified a significant gap in the case of genetically engineered insects, which is covered by no federal agency. "Genetically engineered insects could pose substantial and difficult-to assess environmental hazards and present especially difficult containment issues, yet research and commercial experimentation is proceeding without any regulatory oversight." Consumers Union has always pushed for a comprehensive regulatory framework.
Consumers Union has been lobbying for labeling and pre-market safety testing of genetically engineered foods and animals for many years, testifying and submitting comments to government bodies, both domestically and internationally.
Consumers Union, (914) 378-2000
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, is an independent nonprofit testing, educational and information organization serving only the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public and protect consumers.