Tuesday, June 14, 2011
New Report Reveals Lack of Regulatory Structure Behind Research and Development of Genetically Engineered Animals at USDA
Food & Water Watch
June 14, 2011
Washington, D.C.—A scathing new report released late last week by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) notes glaring deficiencies in the agency’s regulation of research into the development of genetically engineered (GE) animals and insects, said national consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch today. The group also asked for a similar Inspector General review of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) research process for genetically engineered animals; the FDA is currently aiming to approve the first GE animal for human consumption as a “veterinary drug”.
The USDA OIG report revealed that the agency had not issued necessary regulations, lacked coordination, and had security problems when it came to the development of genetically engineered animals and insects.
“This report illustrates the nonchalant view the U.S. government has taken when it comes to developing potentially damaging technologies like genetically engineered organisms,” said Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter. “No one is steering the ship at APHIS, which is not surprising, given the government’s near total acquiescence to industry interests in developing and bringing to market genetically engineered crops like sugar beets and alfalfa—and soon genetically engineered animals like pigs, salmon, or mosquitoes.”
The report found that the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has not issued regulations that apply to the introduction of GE animals or insects and had little internal coordination to prioritize the development of a regulatory framework for these new organisms. As a result, requirements applying to GE animals and insects were not clear to researchers and the public, said the report. It also described the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s failure to develop a process for dealing with research “incidents,” such as the release of 386 potentially transgenic pigs into the food supply.
The report also noted that officials responsible for laboratory security at the Center for Plant Health Science and Technology (CPHST) within APHIS were unaware that their labs were subject to regulations requiring a comprehensive security plan, and therefore did not develop one.
Among its conclusions to the report, the OIG recommended that APHIS develop regulations that clearly define its role in regulating the introduction of GE animals and insects, calling for it to “act proactively to strengthen their controls” to prevent future problems. It also recommended that APHIS direct CPHST to create comprehensive security plans for its laboratories.
“It’s good that the OIG has documented these deficiencies with APHIS, but the government should take the next step and acknowledge a far larger system-wide problem in the development and commercialization of genetically engineered animals and crops,” said Hauter. “We also call on the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a similar audit over the Food and Drug Administration’s research process of GE animals. They should start with asking why the approval of genetically engineered salmon for human consumption is being approved as a veterinary drug.”
“And until long-term safety studies in humans are conducted, the U.S. should stop the trend of uncritical adoption of genetically engineered foods,” said Hauter.