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Grain industry, BIO urge expedited process to decide whether to allow trace amounts of genetically modified organisms in food

(Thursday, April 8, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- DTN, 04/07/04: WASHINGTON - The nation's two major grain industry organizations and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) for the first time have jointly urged three U.S. regulatory agencies to expedite the implementation of an overarching, science-based policy governing incidental, trace amounts - or so-called "adventitious presence" - of biotechnology-enhanced events in raw and processed grains and oilseeds, as well as food and feed, according to a press release.

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), North American Export Grain Association (NAEGA), BIO and 17 State and Regional Grain and Feed Associations affiliated with the NGFA said implementation of such a policy for biotech-enhanced commodities is "enormously important" and a "vital" precursor to the United States' providing international leadership to develop a harmonized global approach on the issue.

The organizations' joint statement was precipitated by a request for comment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on whether it should establish a separate component within its regulatory system to address the adventitious presence of biotech-enhanced commodities that have not yet received full regulatory approval for food or feed. APHIS also sought input on whether it should exempt "low-level" occurrences of such biotech-enhanced events in commercial crops, food, feed or seed.

The NGFA, NAEGA, BIO and the other organizations urged APHIS to work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in developing a unified policy approach governing the adventitious presence of biotech events that have been reviewed for food, feed and environmental safety, but have not completed the full regulatory-approval process.

In so doing, the groups called on the three federal agencies to adopt a policy proposed by the White House Office of Science and Technology in August 2002.

"Such a policy must be solidly grounded in science, involve all agencies with regulatory responsibilities for biotechnology, and not compromise the safety of the U.S. food and feed supply or the environment," the groups said.

The organizations also insisted that such an early safety assessment policy maintain stringent regulatory safeguards and be restricted to those biotech events (specific gene sequences) for which the sponsors seek regulatory approval for use in the general commodity stream for food and feed use.

Biotech-enhanced plants intended for pharmaceutical or industrial uses would not be covered by this policy unless they are deregulated for general commodity use in food and feed. Under the U.S. government's current "coordinated framework" for regulating agricultural biotech-enhanced events, APHIS is responsible for issuing permits for field trials of biotech-enhanced plants, and grants "non-regulated status" to biotech crops if the agency determines they do not pose an adverse risk to other plants, wildlife or the environment.

Meanwhile, FDA determines whether biotech-enhanced foods, feed and feed ingredients are safe for human and animal consumption.

EPA registers biotech-enhanced events that express their own pesticides and determines whether such products pose unreasonable adverse effects upon the environment.

The NGFA, NAEGA, BIO and other groups noted that trace amounts of biotech-enhanced events in commodity crops that have not completed the regulatory review process can result from a plant's natural physiology (pollen flow) or inadvertent mixing during harvest and transportation. But they noted that the U.S. regulatory system imposes a zero tolerance on the presence of such unapproved biotech-enhanced events in food and feed, regardless of the risk level.