Monday, June 18, 2012
AMA to consider genetically modified foods
By Emily P. Walker
June 18, 2012
CHICAGO - The American Medical Association will consider adopting a position on genetically modified foods that would place the doctors’ group on both sides of the fence on the contentious issue.
On one hand, a report that will come up for a vote here Tuesday at the AMA’s policy-setting House of Delegates meeting would put the group on record as agreeing that there is no proven risk of bioengineered foods. But the same report calls for mandatory premarket safety approval of foods that come from plants or animals that have had their DNA tweaked.
During early debate on a report from the AMA’s Council on Science and Public Health on genetically modified foods, some delegates called for mandatory labeling of such foods, while others maintained there isn’t enough science to show bioengineered foods pose any risks to human health.
Meanwhile, protesters flanked the Chicago hotel where the meeting is being held, rallying against bioengineered foods.
Genetically modified foods first hit supermarket shelves in 1996. The term refers to any food that comes from a crop or animal that had specific changes introduced into its DNA via genetic engineering, such as making a certain grain more resistant to pests. According to testimony during a Sunday conference committee, 94% of soybeans, 88% of corn, and 90% of cotton has been modified genetically in some way.
A scientist from Consumer Reports who testified at a Sunday reference committee said that genetically modified foods may cause severe allergies in humans and may also have an effect on the immune system. Nationwide, 20 state legislatures have introduced bills that would require labeling of genetically engineered foods.
The AMA report supports the findings of a 1987 National Academy of Sciences white paper that there is no evidence that genetically modified foods pose any hazards.
If the report is adopted by the House of Delegates, AMA’s official stance would be that the association feels “there is no scientific justification for special labeling of genetically modified bioengineered foods, as a class, and that voluntary labeling is without value unless it is accompanied by focused consumer education.”
During the Sunday committee meeting, some argued that bioengineered foods should be labeled as such so consumers know what they are eating. However, the FDA lacks the authority to mandate labeling of genetically engineered foods if the foods are as safe and have a similar nutritional profile as their nongenetically modified counterparts.
The report also would have the AMA take a seemingly contradictory position: It would support mandatory premarket safety assessments of bioengineered foods, including testing for major changes in nutrient or toxicant levels.
The report also encourages the FDA to “remain alert to new data” on the health consequences of bioengineered foods and to “update its regulatory policies accordingly.” It also would urge government, industry, consumer advocacy groups, and the scientific and medical communities to educate the public in an “unbiased” way to provide information on bioengineered foods.
The House of Delegates will vote on the report Tuesday.