We must stop gambling with food standards

I keep being astounded by our food safety regulator’s lax attitude to genetically engineered food. This new report shows that once again they are making assumptions that GE food is safe without requiring any real evidence.

I want to see an urgent reassessment of how genetically engineered (GE) foods are evaluated for food safety in New Zealand following this study which showed that regulators are making decisions on assumptions rather than facts.

On top of that, genetically engineered foods in New Zealand are rarely correctly labelled, and haven’t been enforced since 2003, making it practically impossible for people to avoid genetically engineered food.

The report, just released by Canterbury University’s Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety (INBI), found that food safety risks from GE-RNA technologies are not being considered adequately by New Zealand’s food standards agency, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

The authors state that, “changing the nature, kind and quantity of particular regulatory-RNA molecules through genetic engineering can create biosafety risks,” and that the molecules can even withstand cooking and digestion.

Just like the more than 70 GE food lines that FSANZ has ticked through as okay for New Zealanders to consume without adequate testing, FSANZ is basing its safety evaluations of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) on assumptions and the evidence of the very companies who will profit from these GE products.

It is time for New Zealand to regain control of its food standards and ensure safe food and effective labelling.

7 thoughts on “We must stop gambling with food standards

  1. How about organic growers *prove* their food is safe? I’ve also noticed water hasn’t be proven safe, whatever “safe” means.

    Surely an oversight.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 10 (-9)

  2. Arana, this is not about GE vs organic, but it is great that certified organic doesn’t allow risky GE inputs. Organics has no linkage to increased tumours, reproductive effects including sterility, organ damage…. but GE does, and food safety assessment tests by regulaters to date are flawed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3 (+6)

  3. Better still, call for a complete moratorium on the importation and use of all GM organisms until there is verifiable and truly independent evidence that they are ‘safe’ for human and animal consumption.
    And in answer to ‘Arana’ and her comment on the safety or otherwise of organic food, I suggest that until the advent of modern industrialised agriculture in the late nineteenth century, almost all food could be deemed ‘organic’.
    The risks inherent in the manipulation and blundering insertion of cross species genetic material in laboratories to no good purpose concerns me much more than the risks of consuming my own (organic) carrots.
    The opposite of food with the use of genetic manipulation is not always commercially grown organics in actual fact (although it provides a useful framework) but the careful and considered application of science, observation and good husbandry. Oh, and caution :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0 (+8)

  4. The makers of synthetic highs (which have a relatively small market) must prove their products to be safe, yet food, which we all eat, doesn’t have to be tested ?!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0 (+9)

  5. To Rafe,

    I would just like to point out, genetic modification is not a “blundering insertion” of genetic materials “to no good purpose”, it is rather an attempt to insert a specific, beneficial segment of DNA from one species into another.

    It has targeted reasoning behind the insertion, (for instance the insertion of an anti-fungal gene from frogs into potatoes to prevent potatoes suffering from fungal diseases – dry rot, late blight etc) and in the case of GM food it is used as an alternative to having to spray these plants with various (potentially harmful) chemicals to prevent them contracting these diseases.

    Another point to make is that a lot of hard work and stringent testing is conducted on these GM plants as they are being created. They are carefully tested to ensure the inserted genetic material is producing the expected result, and until this is proven they are regulated and quarantined by multiple health and safety regulations (Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO) Act 1996 regulates new organisms in New Zealand – enforced by MAF and ERMA), which ensure that the GM organism is not released into the general market before it has been proven safe.

    Similarly eating GM foods is no different to eating non-GM foods, the inserted DNA segment is treated the exact same way (within our bodies) as plants original DNA.

    I do, however, agree that GM foods should be clearly labelled, allowing individuals to make up their own mind us to whether they wish to buy it, just as organic food is clearly labelled and can be sought or avoided as the consumer chooses.

    It is not really a question of food safety when it comes to GM food as opposed to food preference. A marketing study recently found that it is in fact price that decides for the majority of people which food they will buy as opposed to how it was grown.

    And as an aside, the majority of foods we eat today are genetically modified, however they have been modified through targeted breeding of different closely related species (or sub-species) over a long period of time (carrots were purple until targeted breeding by the Dutch produced the more commonly eaten orange variety we have today), rather than as quickly and precisely modified as the new GM technologies enable.

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  6. Tanya, there may be good intent in terms of outcome in GE research, but there is absolutely no guarantee about either outcomes or safety. With each insertion there are effects that cannot be predicted and not always identified. The HSNO Act is neither adequate or enforced adequately, so your assertions are misleading.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0 (+1)

  7. Tanya,you have got to realise that organic food when properly grown is nutrient dense-the plants assimilate all their requirements via the soil food web where the elements and micro elements are held.This is generally not the case with GE plants where synthetic fertilisers pump the plant up with the aid of water.So to say that non GE and GE plants are the same is totally incorrect.

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