Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Coalition calls for FDA to halt approval of genetically engineered salmon
Center for Food Safety
December 20, 2011
Discovery of undisclosed infection of salmon eggs calls into question company claims that GE salmon are safe for the environment
Yesterday afternoon a coalition of 11 food safety, environmental, consumer and fisheries organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) calling for a halt to its approval of a genetically engineered (GE) salmon after learning that the company’s – AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. – research site was contaminated with a new strain of Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA), the deadly fish flu that is devastating fish stocks around the world.
“This new information calls into question the reliability of AquaBounty’s data and the validity of its claims that their fish are safe for the environment” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. “The FDA must respond appropriately and conduct their own environmental impact statement that looks at a broad range of environmental risks from these genetically engineered salmon, including the risk of spreading diseases such as ISA and antibiotic use for other diseases.”
AquaBounty has claimed that the company’s process for raising GE fish is safer than traditional aquaculture. However, documents that were revealed last week indicate that their production site was found by Canadian Authorities to have been contaminated in Nov. 2009. This information was hidden from the public and potentially FDA and other Federal agencies consulting on the GE salmon application. ISA is a deadly disease and is classified as a ‘Listed’ disease by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) – alongside diseases such as Anthrax, Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), Foot and mouth disease, rabies, sheep pox, swine fever, avian influenza, West Nile fever, scrapie, fowl cholera, bovine tuberculosis and myxomatosis.
“Infectious Salmon Anaemia threatens wild fisheries around the world and the communities whose livelihood depend on those fish” said Erich Pica, President of Friends of the Earth US. “ISA infections in Chile cost the industry around two billion dollars. A similar infection in Canada and the U.S. could be the last blow to wild Atlantic salmon populations and bring a collapse in wild salmon fisheries.”
The December 19 letter urged FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to release all health data on AquaBounty’s GE salmon and to suspend any approval actions until all the data is disclosed and the public has an opportunity to review the data. Additionally, the coalition asked the FDA to conduct a full environmental impact statement that includes review of the effect of fish diseases, like ISA, on wild fish populations that might come into contact with the AquaBounty fish. Currently, the FDA has only performed a less comprehensive environmental risk assessment.
This news comes on the heels of a Senate subcommittee hearing held last Thursday on the environmental risks of GE fish, the first hearing of its kind in Congress.
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.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
EFSA admits Bt maize threat to butterflies, gives green light regardless
December 13, 2011
The European Food Safety Authority GMO Panel’s new opinion on Pioneer Hybrid/Mycogen Seed’s insect resistance GM maize (known as 1507) acknowledges the crop puts non-target species at risk, including iconic butterflies, but disregards both these risks and big gaps in the applicant’s data in recommending the crop for EU cultivation. 
In contrast to a 2005 opinion giving 1507 the all clear, the EFSA GMO Panel now says, “Highly sensitive non-target Lepidoptera populations might be at risk,” if they ingest pollen from the GM maize that falls on plants used by their larvae for food.
Many common and iconic butterflies could be harmed because their food plants are frequently found in and around arable fields, so their larva may consume 1507 pollen on these plants. The “at risk” list includes the Painted Lady, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Common Blue and Orange Tip.
However the Panel nevertheless supports the approval of 1507 maize, saying the potential harmful effects can be mitigated.
USDA claims ‘hands were tied’ in biotech approval
By Mateusz Perkowski
December 13, 2011
The USDA’s authority over genetically engineered crops was a top subject during recent oral arguments in a lawsuit over biotech alfalfa.
Attorneys for the agency repeatedly argued that its authority was limited, claiming “its hands were tied” in deciding to re-commercialize the crop, which can withstand glyphosate herbicides.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, had to base its decision on whether transgenic Roundup Ready alfalfa posed a plant pest risk, similarly to a virus or bacteria, attorneys said.
“In other words, APHIS is not the policy decision-maker in Congress’ stead to decide whether, as a matter of market preference, organic crops, conventional crops or indeed genetically engineered crops should dominate,” said Eric Womack, an attorney for the agency.
The USDA fully deregulated biotech alfalfa in early 2011 after completing a court-ordered environmental review of the crop. In 2007, a federal judge had overturned the agency’s previous approval of the crop.
The Center for Food Safety, a non-profit critical of transgenic crops, filed a lawsuit against the USDA, claiming that Roundup Ready alfalfa was deregulated in violation of administrative and environmental laws.
The group fears biotech alfalfa will cross-pollinate with organic and conventional crops, among other issues.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Under Industry Pressure, USDA Works to Speed Approval of Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered Crops
By Mike Ludwig
December 12, 2011
For years, biotech agriculture opponents have accused regulators of working too closely with big biotech firms when deregulating genetically engineered (GE) crops. Now, their worst fears could be coming true: under a new two-year pilot program at the USDA, regulators are training the world’s biggest biotech firms, including Monsanto, BASF and Syngenta, to conduct environmental reviews of their own transgenic seed products as part of the government’s deregulation process.
This would eliminate a critical level of oversight for the production of GE crops. Regulators are also testing new cost-sharing agreements that allow biotech firms to help pay private contractors to prepare mandatory environmental statements on GE plants the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering deregulating.
The USDA launched the pilot project in April and, in November, the USDA announced vague plans  to “streamline” the deregulation petition process for GE organisms. A USDA spokesperson said the streamlining effort is not part of the pilot project, but both efforts appear to address a backlog of pending GE crop deregulation petitions that has angered big biotech firms seeking to rollout new products.
Documents obtained by Truthout under a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request reveal that biotech companies, lawmakers and industry groups have put mounting pressure on the USDA in recent years to speed up the petition process, limit environmental impact assessments and approve more GE crops. One group went as far as sending USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack a timeline of GE soybean development that reads like a deregulation wish list. [Click here  and here  to download and read some of the documents released to Truthout.]