>FYI - NAS report on GE crops and two related news stories. Apologizes for
>any cross postings.
>>The National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Reort on the
>>regulation and risk assessment
>>of transgenic plants is now available. The 280+ page report can be found
>>Genetically Engineered Food Needs Better Regulation
>>By Marc Kaufman
>>Washington Post Staff Writer
>>Wednesday, April 5, 2000
>>Genetically engineered crops appear to be safe but the government should
>>better coordinate how it regulates them to make sure they don't pose a
>>danger to the environment or human health, a National Academy of Sciences
>>report concluded today.
>>The Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and
>>the Department of Agriculture should work more closely to make sure
>>engineered crops are adequately tested and monitored, a panel appointed by
>>the academy's National Research Council concluded.
>>The long-awaited, 260-page report, which focused on crops engineered to
>>protect themselves from pests, was immediately seized upon by both advocates
>>and opponents of engineered crops to support their position that either the
>>crops are safe and benefit the environment or that they are potentially
>>unsafe and may pose a hazard.
>>Scientists have begun splicing a variety of genes into crops, including
>>genes that enable crops to produce their own pesticides. The engineered
>>crops have become increasingly popular among U.S. farmers because they allow
>>them to use less chemicals.
>>But the crops have also become increasingly controversial, especially in
>>Europe. Opponents fear crops that produce their own pesticides might cause
>>insects to become more resistant, causing the need for more or stronger
>>chemicals in the future. One recent study also suggested such crops could
>>kill monarch butterflies.
>>While the panel concluded that there currently is no evidence that the crops
>>do pose a danger, there is enough concern and unanswered questions to
>>warrant close scrutiny.
>>"Concern surrounds the possibility that genes for resisting pests might be
>>passed from cultivated crops to their weedy relatives, potentially making
>>the weed problem worse. This could pose a high cost for farmers and threaten
>>the ecosystem," said Perry Adkisson, chancellor emeritus of Texas A&M
>>University in College Station, Texas, who chaired the panel.
>>The 12-member panel was comprised of researchers from outside the
>>government. But the panel itself became embroiled in controversy when the
>>staff director took a job with the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
>>About three dozen protesters gathered outside the National Academy of
>>Sciences headquarters to condemn the report. They carried signs including
>>one that read "The Best Science Money Can Buy." Most were wearing white lab
>>"Regretfully I would have to say this report is tainted by the conflicts of
>>interest of members," said Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), who introduced
>>legislation that require labeling of products containing genetically
>>"A panel that leans overwhelmingly toward a pro-biotech position, including
>>members on the payroll of the biotech industry, cannot be expected to
>>produce an independent report with an objective conclusion," he said.
>>The Biotechnology Industry Organization released a statement praising the
>>report. "We're pleased this timely report reassures consumers that foods
>>derived from plant biotechnology are thoroughly tested and safe. And we're
>>equally pleased the report points out that biotech crops offer significant
>>improvement over traditional agricultural practices and could promote
>>biodiversity in the environment."
>>More regulation of biofoods urged
>>But no evidence to date designer foods unsafe, panel says
>>By Charlene Laino
>>April 5 — Even while stressing that there is no evidence to date suggesting
>>that genetically engineered foods are unsafe, a government panel Wednesday
>>called for better regulation of the growing biotech industry.
>>In a long-awaited report, the National Academies’ National Research Council
>>called for more research to determine whether gene-modified foods could have
>>any unforeseen effects on human health or the environment.
>>Additionally, government agencies must bolster the testing and regulatory
>>mechanisms they employ to protect the health of people and the environment,
>>the panel said.
>>Nevertheless, this is not to say that any plants have so far been proved
>>unsafe, the group stressed.
>>The findings were embraced by both proponents and critics of bioengineered
>>foods to bolst their positions that the plants are either safe or
>>potentially dangerous, respectively.
>>The NAS investigation grew out of a proposed 1994 EPA rule to regulate GM
>>plants that has yet to be finalized, in part due to criticism that it was
>>not based on sound science. Now, with the panel’s report, it is widely
>>believed that the EPA regulation will be passed, albeit with some
>>“In terms of currently available commercial plants, the Environmental
>>Protection Agency and its sister groups have done a good job of regulating
>>the industry,” said Fred Gould, a committee member and professor of
>>entomology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
>>“But looking toward the future, there will be more diversity in terms of the
>>kinds of genes that are engineered into plants,” he said. “Therefore there
>>will be a need for a tightening of regulations and more interaction between
>>To that end, the EPA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and
>>Drug Administration should quickly come to an agreement on each agency’s
>>role in regulating plants that have been genetically modified to resist
>>pests, the panel said. Any new rules should be flexible so they can easily
>>be updated to reflect improved scientific understanding.
>>The report, prepared by a 12-member panel of academic, industry and
>>environmental scientists, is expected to influence the U.S. policy debate
>>over gene-modified foods. The controversy, which has been raging in Europe,
>>recently leaped over the Atlantic, igniting consumer protests across
>>“Our committee members came from many biases, from environment to industry,”
>>Gould said. “But in coming to an agreement, we stuck only to facts that
>>could be backed up.
>>“The hope is that we will contribute constructively to the debate by
>>producing a credible report,” Gould said.
>>MAKING BETTER PLANTS
>>Transgenic plants have been grown commercially since 1995. In 1999 alone,
>>more than 70 million acres of transgenic crops were planted in the United
>>The concept is simple: By inserting genes into plants, biotech scientists
>>believe they can add desirable traits — making a plant that is resistant to
>>pests, for example, or with greater nutritional value.
>>The concern is that when scientists introduce genes — which can be from
>>similar, sexually compatible species or from completely unrelated
>>organisms — they may also introduce allergens or toxins that make the foods
>>unsafe or inadvertently reduce their vitamin or nutritional content. Others
>>worry that the process could do irreparable harm to beneficial organisms or
>>spur the uncontrollable growth of weeds.
>>According to the committee, pest-protected plants have so far caused obvious
>>health or environmental problems in “only very rare circumstances.” Although
>>a commercially available transgenic pest-protected plant has never induced
>>an allergic reaction, for example, one such incident did occur at the
>>In that study, people with a known allergic reaction to Brazil nuts
>>experienced a similar reaction when they were exposed in skin-prick tests to
>>soybeans containing a gene transferred from the Brazil nut.
>>In the case of a controversial 1999 laboratory study that found that pollen
>>from corn altered to slay corn-borer pests killed monarch butterflies, the
>>panel called for further research.
>>In the lab studies, the pollen was poured over the butterflies, Gould said.
>>“In field studies that mimic real-life conditions, the findings are
>>equivocal, leaving us with a question mark.”
>>PRAISE FROM BOTH SIDES
>>Both environmental and industry groups praised the recommendations — the
>>former citing potential risks of biofoods; the latter, the lack of any such
>>data to date.
>>Environmental Defense Fund senior scientist Rebecca Goldburg said, “The
>>report points out that genetically engineered pesticidal crops can pose a
>>number of ecological and health risks.
>>“The NAS report makes clear that such risks merit careful evaluation by
>>government regulators, and in some cases urges federal agencies to do a more
>>thorough job than they are now doing,” said Goldburg, a member of the panel
>>that drafted the report as well as of EDF, a leading national nonprofit
>>organization based in New York.
>>Jane Ressler, a senior staff scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists,
>>an environmental watchdog group in Washington, D.C., also praised the
>>committee for suggesting that the EPA’s proposed rule to oversee GM plants
>>Additionally, the report confirms the potential risks — both to human health
>>and the environment — of genetically modified foods, she said.
>>But the Grocery Manufacturers of America issued a statement saying that,
>>“The National Academy of Sciences report on food biotechnology reinforces
>>longstanding analysis that the technology is safe.”
>>Jeff Stier, associate director of American Council on Science and Health, a
>>group with ties to industry, also pointed out that the panel found no
>>evidence of harm caused by designer foods.
>>“These types of consensus reports rarely make any sweeping statements,” he
>>said. “That such a respected panel of scientists gave this unequivocal bill
>>of health to GM foods, further supports that fact that there is no
>>disagreement in the scientific community as to their safety.”
>>Panel member Gould acknowledged that the report is unlikely to end the
>>debate. His hope: that the public gain access to unbiased data so they can
>>decide for themselves.
>>The most important thing, said Gould, is that the data is accessible to the
>>public, such as through the Web.
>>The NAS has called for more research to detect any effects of gene modified
>>foods on human health or the environment. Among its recommendations:
>>• Establish a federal database for plants of potential concern.
>>• Develop improved methods for identifying potential allergens in GM plants.
>>• Increase research aimed as assessing the potential risks of transgenic
>>• Collect more data on the baseline concentrations of plant compounds that
>>could affect human health and how concentrations may vary due to genetics
>>• Require original data to support USDA decision-making on altered crops
>>when published data is insufficient.
>>• Determine the impacts of altered plants on other plants and wildlife.
>>• Develop gene-splicing techniques that decrease the potential for the
>>inadvertent spread of new plants into the wild.
>>• Expand Web sites to include more detailed information and to link all of
>>the agencies’ decisions for any particular product.
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