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Study of genetically engineered food points to safety gaps

July 27, 2004
For more information:
Jean Halloran 914-378-2455
Michael Hansen 914-378-2452

NAS Study of Genetically Engineered Food Points to Safety Gaps
Consumers Union Calls for Mandatory Premarket Safety Testing

A new National Academy of Sciences report to be released July 28 on Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods paints a disturbing picture of how little we know about the effects of genetically engineering on food, according to Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports.
The NAS report indicates that substances that are toxic or cause allergies may be introduced through genetic engineering. However it states that “there remain sizeable gaps in our ability to identify compositional changes that result ….and to predict and assess unintended adverse effects on human health.”
Michael Hansen, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate at Consumers Union, states, “We are particularly concerned that the NAS Committee recommends that if genetically engineered foods contain novel chemicals whose effects on health are unknown, that the food should be allowed on the market, and assessed through monitoring. In essence, it recommends using consumers as guinea pigs to assess the safety of the food.” The NAS report states, “Given the possibility that food with unintended changes may enter the marketplace…postmarket surveillance of exposures and effects is needed.”
Consumers Union advocates mandatory safety approval before any genetically engineered food is put on the market. The US Food and Drug Administration currently employs a system of voluntary consultations about safety with companies marketing genetically engineered seeds.
Consumers Union also objected to the fact that the one consumer representative on the Committee that generated the report is not American, and does not actually work for the organization she lists as her affiliation in the roster of Committee members. The Committee member, Jennifer Hillard, is listed as affiliated with Consumers Association of Canada (CAC). While she worked for CAC on a government-sponsored project carried out in cooperation with Monsanto and other biotech companies, she left there in 2002. CAC subsequently sued her for defamation and won. According to CAC President Bruce Cran, she does not represent the organization.
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