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New Government Report Has Major Concerns Regarding GMO Foods

Techniques for confining genetically engineered salmon, corn and other organisms are still in their infancy, and a new report from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) experts states far more work needs to be done to make sure the new products do not taint the food supply or wipe out important species. The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences released its 219-page report yesterday titled "Biological Confinement of Genetically Engineered Organisms." The report was commissioned by the USDA and you can read it for free by going to their site. The report raises significant concerns about the ability to control and contain genetically engineered organisms. The release of such organisms into the environment could create major problems and threatens to contaminate the food supply.

This information should come as no surprise to longtime readers of this newsletter as I posted my serious reservations and concerns about this issue over three years ago. Developers of genetically engineered organisms need to consider how biological techniques such as induced sterility can prevent transgenic animals and plants from escaping into natural ecosystems and breeding or competing with their wild relatives, or passing engineered traits to other species. Deciding whether and how to confine a genetically engineered organism cannot be an afterthought.

The real question now is will the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration act upon the many important concerns raised by this report? Often reports commissioned by government agencies are never acted upon because of pressure from the industries that are affected. The expense to enact the additional safeguards suggested in this report would be costly to the biotech industry. Will the USDA act on behalf of the American public and require additional safeguards, or will the agency do nothing in order to avoid creating extra financial burdens on the biotech industry?

Washington Post January 20, 2004

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