Sunday, December 18, 2011
Feds’ GM food proposal compromises food safety, say groups
By Omid Ghoreishi
December 18, 2011
A federal government proposal that would allow low levels of contamination from genetically modified foods from other countries is raising concerns among activist groups.
The proposed policy on “low level presence” (LLP) relates to the unintended presence in low amounts of unapproved genetically modified (GM) material in imported food.
“We think that’s a huge concern from a health safety standpoint. There is no justification for this policy from a public health point of view,” says Lucy Sharrat, coordinator of Ottawa-based Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), which is taking part in a government stakeholder consultation on the policy.
“The government is very clear that this is trade policy, and our position is that this is clearly trade policy that sacrifices food safety,” she says.
The proposal stems from an industry concern that the inevitable presence of traces of GM in imported food that has been approved in one country but not in the country of import could disrupt international trade.
According to U.K.-based Graham Brookes Consulting, a 2006 incident involving EU imports of rice from the U.S. in which traces of yet-unapproved GM material were found and the subsequent rejection of the imports cost the EU rice sector 111 million pounds (C$177 million) in the years immediately following the incident.
Another incident involving EU imports of U.S. maize that contained traces of unapproved GM is estimated to have cost the EU livestock sector 1.6 billion pounds, according to researchers with the Wageningen University and Research Centre in The Hague.
If the proposal is adopted, Canada could be the first country that would set up a system to allow contamination from unapproved GM foods.
“The need to address low-level presence has been recognized internationally, and Canada is showing leadership by reviewing its policy to manage domestic occurrences of LLP,” Patrick Girard, a spokesperson with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), explains in an email.
“This is part of a broader strategy to maintain food safety, prevent trade disruptions, and ensure open and predictable trade.”
The proposal was crafted by an interdepartmental committee that was formed in 2010 consisting of AAFC, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Health Canada, among others, to look into LLP policy.
“Many of our trading partners recognize the importance of the issue, and we are working with them to develop global solutions,” says Girard.
But as far as opponents are concerned, Canada expecting the rest of the world to accept its food exports with LLP doesn’t justify allowing the presence of any material not yet approved by that country’s health and safety agencies in food imports.
“It’s unconscionable that our government would purposefully allow unapproved foods into Canada just so we can try and push our GM contamination on the rest of the world,” Tanmayo Krupanszky of the Canadian Organic Growers Toronto Chapter said in a statement.
CBAN’s Sharrat says the proposed policy is based on a hope that other countries will follow suit, but there is no guarantee that other countries will adopt similar LLP policies.
“We think that even the trade justification of this policy is extremely weak,” she says.
Girard says that the fact that LLP is defined as low-level presence of GM material that has been approved in at least one country with risk assessment procedures that Canadian regulators have confidence in is a very important protection to the safety of Canadians.
The proposed policy also contains three possible approaches to further maintain food, feed, and environmental safety.
“In the first proposed approach, the quantity of GMO must be so low that testing and sampling techniques cannot determine with certainty that there is actually GMO in the shipment,” Girard says.
“In the two other approaches, Canadian regulators would conduct risk assessments for health and safety, i.e. toxicity and allergenicity. If any health and safety issue is identified, the LLP policy would not apply and the shipments would need to be brought back into compliance.”
The proposal is preliminary and represents a “preliminary review of possible approaches.”
Girard says the proposal has been sent to stakeholders, including the entire value chain, and the provinces and territories. It has also been shared with Canada’s trading partners.
The next step is to analyze the findings of the preliminary consultations to create a final proposal for further consultation.