GE food for all? – AGRA Watch’s Bereano responds to Fedoroff

In a recent  New York Times Op Ed entitled “Genetically Engineered Food for All,” Nina Fedoroff made a novel argument: The manifold virtues of genetically engineered food, she claimed, remain unrealised because of excessive regulation. The US government is stifling innovation by an over-cautious approach to this benevolent, life-sustaining technology.

Here’s what AGRA Watch’s Phil Bereano had to say in response:

Editor, NY Times:

Contrary to the assertion by Nina Fedoroff (Aug 19 Op Ed) that the US has a “regulatory thicket” which is “slowing down the development” of GE crops, the government has essentially abandoned what little oversight it did exercise.  Our procedures fall far short of those recommended by international agencies such as the treaty governing the movement of GE organisms across international borders and the UN guidelines for scientific assessment of GE food risks.

To avoid drawing the public’s attention to GE and its risks, the government decided in 1986 against Congressional consideration of a special GE regulatory statute. Instead it announced that existing laws would be stretched to cover these new products. The result has been the deployment of illogical legal pretence to “cover” vastly novel products (like engineered fish). Further, the set up provides few opportunities for  public information and oversight.

In 1992 the FDA announced it would not regulate GE foods, claiming (without evidence and over the opposition of its own scientists) that they were “substantially equivalent” to regular ones; subsequently, this view has been rejected by international authorities.

Meanwhile the Agriculture Department has refused to do any environmental assessments of GE crops, despite mounting scientific and empirical evidence of contamination and harm to biodiversity.  In recent years, court lawsuits forced it to do several such examinations, but these have been inadequate by international standards. Thus, the “safety” of GE is far from proven. Risk research is barely funded; rather “don’t look, don’t find” has been the US posture.

The absence of evidence of GE risks is, therefore, not evidence of the absence of risk or that GE crops are safe.

– By Philip L. Bereano, professor emeritus at the University of Washington

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