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US House moves to ban GM salmon,GE rice contamination in China
1. House Moves to Ban Modified Salmon
Note: The US House of Representatives approved an amendment to another Bill that would keep the US Food and Drug Administration from spending money in 2012 reviewing an application to approve GM salmon. The Bill will be debated in the Senate in coming weeks.
2. GM Rice Spreads, Prompts Debate in China
3. Children and Infants in China at Risk of Eating Food Contaminated by Illegal GE Rice
Note: GM rice is not legally on the market anywhere in the world. This GM rice contamination comes from field tests in China.
House Moves to Ban Modified Salmon
The New York Times, USA Greenwire, USA, by Paul Voosen
AMENDMENT TO H.R. 2112, AS REPORTED - OFFERED BY MR. YOUNG OF ALASKA AND MS. WOOLSEY OF CALIFORNIA: At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following: SEC. ll. None of the funds made available by this Act to the Food and Drug Administration may be used to approve any application submitted under section 512 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 360b) for approval of genetically engineered salmon.
In a potential blow to the future of the biotech industry, a handful of House lawmakers voted last night to bar the Food and Drug Administration from approving any bioengineered salmon for mass consumption.
A terse amendment offered by Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Don Young (R-Alaska) would ban FDA from spending any funds on genetically engineered salmon approvals beginning in the next financial year. Less than a dozen lawmakers voted by voice to attach the amendment to an agriculture spending bill expected to pass the House this week.
The amendment is squarely aimed at preventing the approval of a fast-growing modified salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies. For years, FDA has considered approving the salmon for limited cultivation in inland tanks, and last fall the agency held public meetings considering the approval, drawing broad public notice. The largely sterile salmon could be the first bioengineered animal approved for human consumption.
"This sort of political gamesmanship undermines the science-based regulatory process," said Ronald Stotish, AquaBounty‚s CEO. "It is astonishing that Young and the very few representatives present during this vote -- less than the number of fingers on both hands -- would try to game the system in this way."
Young has long been opposed to AquaBounty‚s salmon, introducing bills last year and this year banning the fish or, if it is approved, requiring mandatory labeling of the salmon as genetically engineered. He has been joined in his fight by a small bipartisan group of Pacific Northwest lawmakers, including Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), among others.
In a statement, Young said he had deep concern about the salmon, which he dubbed "Frankenfish."
"Frankenfish is uncertain and unnecessary," Young said. "Should it receive approval as an animal drug, it clears the path to introduce it into the food supply. My amendment cuts them off before they can get that far. Any approval of genetically modified salmon could seriously threaten wild salmon populations as they grow twice as fast and require much more food."
AquaBounty‚s salmon has drawn fire from a host of environmental groups, concerned about its potential escape, and also from the salmon farming industry. Should the bioengineered salmon be approved and grown profitably in inland tanks, the fish could undermine traditional ocean-based farms and give AquaBounty a dominant position in the industry.
If FDA approves its petition, AquaBounty would grow its largely sterile salmon at inland fish farms in Canada and Panama for eventual sale in the United States. AquaBounty has proposed layers of confinement for these facilities, and its partners would need to seek FDA approval for expanded cultivation. However, these applications could come without public input and could allow a compounded environmental risk to go unexamined, environmental groups warn.
In recent months, these groups have focused their campaign against the salmon on the state level, pushing for a bill to label the fish in the California Legislature. While the state‚s Assembly Health Committee approved the bill, it has not yet faced a full vote.
Meanwhile, they have also submitted a formal petition to FDA calling for a full environmental impact statement (EIS) on the fish‚s potential effects, said George Leonard, director of the aquaculture program at the Ocean Conservancy.
"The only person I‚ve seen that wants this fish is the company itself," he said, adding that his group was certainly "on board" with Young‚s amendment. "We‚ve had troubles with FDA‚s approval of this fish from the beginning."
While there may not be a broad outcry for the salmon, that may not be solid enough grounds for banning the fish.
This is a question of science, said David Edwards, director for animal biotech at the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
"It‚s unfortunate that the politics that has gotten into this," Edwards said. "It‚s really a problem that should be debated by scientific experts. And those experts are at FDA."
Already, FDA‚s experts have found the fish safe to eat, a finding echoed by many independent scientists. However, the agency has not yet issued an environmental assessment of what risks, if any, the salmon could pose to the environment.
When it rules, the agency could either call for a full EIS or approve the fish outright; either decision would then entail a month of public comment.
Debate over environmental impact
Many scientists have said that if the fast-growing fish allows salmon to be profitably grown away from the ocean, where fish farms cause heavy environmental damage through their waste and escaped charges, the AquaBounty salmon could be a theoretical win for the environment. But knowing if that theory translates into practice may require additional research confirming that the modified salmon would not thrive in wild conditions if it escaped.
AquaBounty‚s salmon grow twice as fast as conventional salmon, their DNA spliced with an always-on growth hormone gene from the chinook salmon. While fast-growing, they do not ultimately grow larger than their Atlantic salmon cousins. AquaBounty will also induce sterility into its all-female populations of the fish, though the firm‚s own assessments agree that these sterility controls could leave up to 5 percent of the fish sterile.
Some scientists have been critical of a provisional environmental assessment, prepared by AquaBounty and overseen by FDA, that the agency published on its website last fall. That report cited multiple proposed confinement methods -- including physical isolation and a high sterility rate -- to avoid a consideration of broader environmental impacts should a few fertile fish escape (Greenwire, Oct. 7, 2010).
Another sore point in the public discussion of AquaBounty‚s salmon has been the possibility that the fish, like all modified crops grown in the country, could be sold on store shelves without any labeling. Since the salmon is relatively indistinguishable from conventional and farmed salmon -- at least from a nutritional standpoint -- FDA may not have the regulatory authority to label it, the agency has said.
The amendment‚s ultimate fate is uncertain. The Senate is unlikely to approve the House spending bill unmodified, and it is unclear whether the amendment has the broad support to survive to final passage.
GM Rice Spreads, Prompts Debate in China
Agence France Press, France Boris Cambreleng
BEIJING ˜ Genetically modified rice has been spreading illegally for years in China, officials have admitted, triggering a debate on a sensitive aspect of the food security plan in the world‚s most populous nation.
Two strains of GM rice were approved for open-field experiments but not commercial sale in 2009. In January, the agriculture ministry said ‰no genetically modified cereals are being grown in China‰ outside the test sites.
But in April, an environment ministry official told the weekly Nanfang Zhoumo that a joint investigation by four government departments had found that "illegal GM seeds are present in several provinces because of weak management".
The agriculture ministry did not respond to an AFP request for clarification.
According to the website for the European Union‚s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, European countries found foodstuffs from China containing GM rice 115 times between 2006 and May this year.
The campaign group Greenpeace says GM rice seeds have been in China since 2005, and were found at markets in Hubei, Hunan and Jiangxi provinces last year, Fang Lifeng, a Chinese agriculture specialist with the group, told AFP.
Beijing is pro-biotechnology and has already allowed several GM crops to be grown, including cotton, peppers, tomatoes and papayas, and has authorised imports of GM soya and corn for the food industry.
But rice -- the key staple in the diet of the country‚s more than 1.3 billion people -- is a much more sensitive question.
"Two-thirds of Chinese eat rice every day," said Tong Pingya, a highly respected agronomist who blasted Chinese scientists for "treating the people like guinea pigs" at a conference in May chaired by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang.
"China does not need this genetically modified rice, as it produces enough and even exports a bit," Tong told AFP.
When the National People's Congress, China‚s rubber-stamp parliament, met last year, around 100 researchers wrote to deputies asking them to revoke authorisations for the use of experimental GM grains, including a strain of corn as well as the two rice types.
They also demanded a public debate and clear labelling of products containing genetically modified organisms.
Backers of GM rice argue that it is more drought-resistant, offers better yield, and -- in the case of the variety containing the Bt gene -- allows pesticide use to be dramatically cut.
"It should be possible to authorise commercialisation around 2012-2013, but the state will probably not allow them to be used on a wide scale" in the near future, said Ma Wenfeng, a grain market analyst with the consultancy CNagri, which has links to the agriculture ministry.
According to Ma, the new varieties represent "an advance in biotechnology" and will ultimately be accepted.
For their part, environmentalists and some Chinese scientists warn against the as-yet unknown long-term consequences of using GM rice for biodiversity and human health.
Whether using them is in farmers‚ interests is an open question, according to Greenpeace‚s Fang, because "GM seeds cost two to five times more than ordinary seeds" and "in terms of yield, there isn‚t really a difference".
GM rice strains developed in Chinese laboratories also raise questions about intellectual property.
The Bt gene is patented by the US agribusiness giant Monsanto, which could demand royalties and compensation from China if that variety is commercialised.
Children and Infants in China at Risk of Eating Food Contaminated by Illegal GE Rice
Greenpeace Eastasia, China http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/press/release/ge-rice-baby-food 20.04.2011
Beijing ˜ Greenpeace testing has found illegal genetically engineered (GE) rice in baby formulas and dried noodles, as well as rice purchased from restaurants near schools in Hubei province. Illegal GE rice was present in samples collected from Beijing, Wuhan, and Hong Kong, some of which originated from Guangdong province ˆ an alarming indicator of the extent of GE contamination.
"Genetically engineered rice is still in the research phases and the government has yet to approve it," said Fang Lifeng, Greenpeace Food and Agriculture Campaigner. "Thus we should not be finding GE rice in food at all ˆ especially not in food commonly given to infants and children, who are the most vulnerable of all consumers."
Purchased in Beijing, a rice formula made by leading Chinese dairy company Yili tested positive for GE Bt63 rice at an independent third-party laboratory. The formula is designated for infants 6 to 24 months in age. Testing also found GE rice in dried rice noodles, including in PARKnSHOP-brand (A.S. Watsons Group) noodles purchased in Hong Kong. Rice noodles are a popular food, especially in southern China. Illegal Bt63 was also found in rice purchased from five fast food restaurants located next to three elementary schools in Wuhan, Hubei province. These restaurants are likely visited by children.
"Infants and children are far more sensitive to food toxins and allergens than adults. The Royal Society recommended that any GE ingredients in foods for babies should be investigated most rigorously," pointed out Fang. "As the safety of GE rice has yet to be determined, it is highly alarming to find GE rice in baby formula and foods that are popular with children."
In research commissioned by Greenpeace, Dr. Xue Kun of the Minzu University of China found variations in the protein content between the genetically engineered rice Bt63 and its parent line Minghui63: 169 protein spots varied in abundance by more than two-fold, 114 protein spots by more than three-fold, and 45 protein spots varied by more than four-fold between the two lines.
Dr. Xue said, "The protein differences could be due to unanticipated effects of genetic engineering, and they may also have unintended health and environmental consequences. Without further research into these protein differences, GE ingredients should not be used in foods, especially not in food that may be consumed by children."
Moreover, two GE-positive samples of rice noodles and the Yili baby formula were manufactured in Guangdong, highlighting that GE rice has spread south beyond its origin of contamination in Hubei.
Greenpeace urges the government to immediately stop the commercialization of GE rice, and take drastic measures against GE rice seeds and fields, as well as in the food chain, to prevent further contamination. Greenpeace calls for China to strengthen its biosafety research, and conduct a comprehensive long-term assessment of GE rice‚s impact on the environment, nutrition and food safety. As Chinese people get 19% of their protein from rice, the main staple food, GE rice must not be allowed to gamble with the safety of the nation.
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