EFSA launches GM food consultation

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gm food, Genetically modified food

EFSA has launched an open consultation on the approach of its panel
on GMOs in assessing hybrid genetically modified (GM) crops.

The deadline for submissions is 10 September 2006.

At the same time, EFSA also plans to publish its final guidance document for the risk assessment of GM microorganisms, which has also been subject to an extensive public consultation process.

This is designed to act as an aid to applicants requesting authorisations for GM products and their derived products intended for food.

The document provides guidance for the risk assessment of a broad spectrum of GMOs and derived products ranging from single compounds used in food (e.g. amino acids and vitamins) to products containing viable GMOs (e.g. probiotics and starter cultures for dairy products or beverages).

All this, says EFSA, is in line with its commitment to openness and transparency and encouraging scientific input from all interested parties. But Europe continues to be heavily criticised in its approach to GM food regulation from outside sources.

Francis Smith from the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington DC recently gave an interesting American perspective of the EU's attitude to GM food. She claimed it had little theoretical basis, and panders to the fears and prejudices of its citizens.

She said that the EU's precautionary principle, which rules that regulators should err on the side of caution, assumes that a prevention strategy is always appropriate. A recent European Commission (EC) communique reads: 'decision-makers have to take into account fears generated by these perceptions and put in place preventative measures'​.

"There is little theoretical basis for this approach,"​ argued Smith. "We're talking about regulations addressing perceptions and fears. Also, this is an approach that can never be satisfied - there'll always be someone who can think of yet one more theoretical risk."

This has all led to a great deal of conflict. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) recently said that the "failure of other countries to develop consistent and science-based regulatory processes governing biotechnology has the potential to constrain innovation."

But convincing both consumers and food makers operating in Europe that GM technology is both completely safe and profitable is likely to continue to prove tricky, however. In addition, EFSA, unlike the FDA in the US, has no teeth it is there to provide risk assessment, but the EC remains the authoritative body.

In any case, EFSA plans to publish later a draft guidance document explaining how its GMO panel evaluates the potential human health and environmental effects of hybrid GM plants. This concerns hybrids obtained by combining two GM plants that have been previously assessed.

This document will inform applicants of how its panel evaluates the potential interactions between the combined GM plants of the hybrids in terms of their toxicity, allergenicity, nutritional value and environmental impact and will describe what type of information and test results it expects applicants to deliver.

Related topics: Policy

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