Scientist criticises Codex position on biotechnology

Related tags Codex alimentarius commission Codex alimentarius Food

The new biotechnology, or gene-splicing, applied to agriculture and
food, has a difficult road to hoe, and the international
organisation, Codex Alimentarius Commission, is not helping the
issue, criticises Dr. Henry Miller in a recent article in

The new biotechnology, or gene-splicing, applied to agriculture and food, has a difficult road to hoe, and the international organisation Codex Alimentarius Commission is not helping the issue, criticises Dr Henry Miller in a recent article in AgBioView.

According to Miller​, the latest blow to biotechnology was delivered bythe Codex Alimentarius Commission, the joint food standards programme of the United Nations, whose ongoing task force on gene-spliced foods met in Japanlast week [March 4-7].

He writes that during two years of negotiations by the task force, the Europeans and NGOs(which are permitted full participation) have led the "assault on both public health and free trade"​.

"The participants - including the US delegation, headed by a senior FDA food regulator - have wilfully ignored scientific principles and the basic axiom that the degree of regulatory scrutiny should be proportionate to risk. They have also disregarded thescientific consensus that the new biotechnology, or gene-splicing, is a refinement of older, traditional techniques of genetic modification,"​ Miller stressed.

He continued by stating that the participants had deliberately circumscribed only gene-spliced food products for acompulsory "pre-market safety assessment of all [gene-spliced] foods on a case-by-case basis"​ that will "look into both intended and unintendedeffects, identifying new or altered hazards and identifying changes relevant to human health, especially in regard to key nutrients and potentialallergenic components."

For Miller, these requirements are more appropriate to potentially dangerousprescription drugs and pesticides than to new, improved varieties of tomatoes, potatoes and strawberries. None of the foods modified by lessprecise, less predictable traditional techniques - which comprise virtuallythe entire diet of Europeans and Americans - could (or should) meet thesestandards, he maintains.

Miller attacked the requirements for gene-spliced foods as being both sweeping and vague, and in his opinion they will vastly increase the development costs of these products, drastically impair their competitiveness in the marketplace, and limit theiruse.

He criticises members of the Codex task force for derailing the development of gene-spliced foods and believes that the reason is clear. According to Miller, political scientist Robert Paarlberg has observed that the products of agricultural biotechnology have been "developed mostly in US laboratories,widely adopted by US farmers, and pushed out onto the world market by US companies with the support of the US government."​ In other words, Miller claims that agricultural biotechnology is an icon of American technological success and supremacy, and consequently, with perhaps too simple a reasoning, US trading partnersintend to punish it.

Whether global reticence towards biotechnology can be explained quite so succinctly and indeed easily is open for discussion.

Finally, Miller concludes that the prospect of unduly burdensome Codex standards for gene-spliced foods is ominous - both for the prospects of the technology itself and for "US hopes of WTO relief from protectionist European policies - because members of the World Trade Organisation will, in principle, be required to abide by those standards. These unscientific standards will harm the environment and public health by stifling the development of innovations that can increase agriculturalproductivity and supplant agricultural chemicals."

Biotechnology has to be one of the most sensitive global debates of this millennium. Miller outlines in his article what many might perceive to be extreme ideas but if the debate on biotechnology is to move forward on the world stage than discourse is vital. All views, extreme or otherwise, must be reflected upon if we are, eventually, to arrive at a set of standards acceptable to the majority.

Related topics Policy

Related news

Follow us


View more