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Science Media Centre: Experts On Regulatory Bodies’ Approach To Gm Products


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Independent experts have responded to accusations that lax regulations are allowing potentially unsafe genetically modified products into  New Zealand and Australia.

Safe soy? A group of academics claim GM products such as soy beans are not being subjected to sufficient scrutiny from regulators.

Safe soy? A group of academics claim GM products such as soy beans are not being subjected to sufficient scrutiny from regulators.

A recent analysis by Professor Jack Heinemann, director of the University of Canterbury’s Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety, and colleagues, critically examined several regulatory bodies and how they assess genetically modified organisms carrying a modification that produces a molecule that can inhibit other genes (double stranded RNA; dsRNA).

The study, published on Friday in the journal Environment International, concluded that, “regulatory bodies are not adequately assessing the risks of dsRNA-producing GM products”, and suggests a formal assessment procedure for dsRNA-based products.

The authors claim that New Zealanders are being put at risk by Food Standards Australia New Zealand because the standards body is approving foods such as soybeans, margarines and chocolate that may contain a GM molecule that has yet to be proved safe for consumption.

See study paper and press release, and a media report that ran in The Press

Update: a follow up article in the The Press further explores the issue.

The SMC collected the following expert commentary from scientists. More comments will be added here as they are received.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand told the SMC its own experts were considering the paper and preparing a response.

Professor Peter Langridge,  chief executive of the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics, University of Adelaide comments:

“It is disappointing that these authors continue to ignore the bulk of the scientific literature, but in this case they are even ignoring common sense.  The suggestion that regulatory agencies do not consider dsRNA in their assessments is ridiculous.  I have actually been involved in a workshop organised by the Australian and New Zealand regulators to discuss this and other technologies in great detail.

“The regulatory agencies are not only fully aware of the technology but they are actively seeking scientific input into the safety assessment. We are fortunate in Australia and New Zealand to have very effective and profession regulatory procedures that have ensured we now enjoy the safest food in our history.

“It is typical of the scare tactics used by these ideological opponents of GM technology, to totally ignore the fact that dsRNA is present in most food we consume and is therefore intrinsically harmless. In their article, this group proposes regulatory procedures that are clearly designed to block the technology not address safety issues. The data and information they would require has all been generated for GM foods but these authors choose to ignore this information.  In my opinion the approach adopted by this group is based on misinformation and distortion of the facts.  They do not appear to have any interest in informed scientific debate.

“In Australia, Dr Carman used her lawyers to try and silence scientific criticism of one of her recent press releases. If anyone would like to get accurate information on the safety of these new technologies they should look at some of the detailed studies and discussion papers available from the website of the European Food Safety Authority.”

Dr David Tribe, Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne, comments:

“My main response is quite simple: the ds RNAs that are discussed in [the paper] are in every bit of food we eat, and in perhaps every plant and animal on the planet, and have been for millennia.

“Why GM food is singled out for special risk attention by this paper is rather puzzling. All plants pose the same questions, perhaps more so than GM crops because they are not scrutinised to the same extent as GM crops by safety authorities like FSANZ. Any GM crop can be scrutinised using modern bioinformatics methods to ensure any issues about ds RNA or RNA silencing are addressed and avoided in the early stages of crop development.”


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