GE Corn – Stacked traits lack assessment: Opinion

GE Corn from MonsantoBy Lucy Sharratt, coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network based in Ottawa (from the Western Producer)

Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences are calling their new SmartStax corn a  “game-changing” technology.

How so? Is it the increased prices they will eventually charge for a  corn with eight genetically engineered traits? Is it the 75 percent  reduction in refuge area that they successfully negotiated?

Or is it the introduction of new genetically engineered crops without  environmental and health assessments?

The game has certainly changed, but not for the better.

Canada’s July approval of SmartStax, a corn with eight GE traits,  indicates the beginning of a new era of dangerous non-regulation of GE  crops.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada are now asking  farmers and consumers to support the introduction of GE crops that  have not undergone any safety assessments.

Approval of SmartStax was great news for Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences. These two corporations own the patents for the eight traits that are combined in the corn.

They will collect many millions of dollars from farmers over the coming years – and the crop didn’t even have to undergo government safety evaluations. Smart for the largest seed and biotech companies, not so smart for the rest of us.

Health Canada did not assess the human health safety of SmartStax corn. In fact, Health Canada didn’t even bother to approve SmartStax.

It was the CFIA alone that authorized the release, without environmental safety assessment.

This lack of safety assessment for stacked trait crops is not a loophole in regulation or an oversight. It actually is the regulation.

This is because, as far as Canadian regulators are concerned, if single GE traits have already been approved in separate crops, the CFIA and Health Canada don’t need to evaluate the safety of new stacked-trait crops.

Canadian regulations, such as they are, merely limit safety assessments to so-called novel traits, which includes GE traits.

But genes are not like Lego. This is a misinterpretation of the simple description of genes as the “building blocks of life.”

Stacked traits are produced through the crossing of GE plants but what happens when GE plants are bred together?

Apparently, our government doesn’t know or care.

In contrast, the United Nations Codex food safety guidelines clearly state that conventional breeding of GE plants can give rise to unintended effects. The UN body recommends that safety assessments should, therefore, be conducted.

Health Canada was part of negotiating these international guidelines but the department doesn’t follow them because this contradicts our simplified trait-based approach to regulation and would require fundamental change.

In authorizing SmartStax without approval from Health Canada, the CFIA has also ignored a policy that the government established to protect farmers.

In response to the contamination of our food system with Starlink corn that was approved for animal feed but not for humans, the federal government decided to only approve GE crops for environmental release if they had also been approved for human consumption.

This was designed to protect public health and farmers from contamination by unapproved GE events. Starlink, however, was authorized without approval from Health Canada.

In the past, Canadians have been assured that GE foods are safe because the regulatory system has approved them. But the federal government cannot make the claim that stacked trait GE crops are safe.

Why not? Because the regulatory agencies have not evaluated their safety. Health Canada has not even officially approved them.

We’re told instead to trust Monsanto and Dow to monitor and identify problems. But will this self-policing protect the public interest? The experience of the listeriosis crisis shows the weaknesses of such a  system and the possible impacts on farmers.

Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN)
Collaborative Campaigning for Food Sovereignty and Environmental Justice
431 Gilmour Street, Second Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K2P 0R5
Phone: 613 241 2267 ext.6
Fax: 613 241 2506

Rebuttal from Monsanto’s Trish Jordan and Brenda Harris – Dow AgroSciences

Jordan is public affairs director for Monsanto Canada. Harris is
regulatory and government affairs manager for Dow AgroSciences Canada.

According to United Nations experts, worldwide agricultural production needs to double by 2050 to feed the expected 9.3 billion people on the planet.

Canadian agriculture can play an important role in meeting this rapidly escalating demand. Continued innovation is critical for producing more food with reduced use of non-renewable resources, in an economically profitable and environmentally sustainable manner, and without drastic increases in the amount of land subjected to the plow.

For planting in 2010, U.S. and Canadian farmers are looking forward to SmartStax corn, a new eight-way stacked corn product.

The new corn seed trait combination, developed jointly by Dow AgroSciences and Monsanto, will provide farmers with the most comprehensive insect and weed control available in the marketplace, while allowing farmers to significantly reduce their non-Bt corn refuge.

SmartStax has passed regulatory reviews in Canada and the U.S., allowing it to be grown by farmers for use as food and feed. It has also passed regulatory muster in Taiwan and Japan allowing it to be imported for food and feed uses.

Regulatory approvals are also pending in other key nations around the world. These approvals are necessary, since products like SmartStax cannot be grown or sold commercially until regulators conclude they meet their nation?s standards for protection of public and environmental health.

Despite these detailed national evaluations, certain non-governmental organizations are opposing the introduction of SmartStax and have criticized the Canadian regulatory process.

In particular, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network opposes the very concept of crop biotechnology. It is hardly surprising that it vigorously objects to any new introductions of these products.

Based on their unfounded safety concerns, CBAN would have us believe our Canadian regulatory system is inadequate. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Despite CBAN?s claims, the fact remains that all biotechnology enhanced plants available to Canadian farmers have been approved based on extensive scientific testing and regulatory review by scientists from three government sections ( Health Canada, Novel Foods Section; and two departments within Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Animal Feed Division, and the Biotechnology Environmental Release Assessment Unit) operating under Canada?s rigorous and internationally respected legislative and regulatory framework.

SmartStax is produced using conventional breeding methods to incorporate individual biotechnology-enhanced traits together into one plant. Each of SmartStax’s component traits has undergone this science- based regulatory review for food, feed and environmental safety, and each has been authorized for food, feed and cultivation uses in Canada.

These individual trait authorizations by Canadian regulators recognize that new varieties of corn are continually developed and that ongoing breeding is necessary to produce the seed that farmers grow.

Stacked products resulting from breeding two (or more) genetically modified parents do require notification to the CFIA. In the opinion of Canadian regulators, this notification is sufficient to allow them to determine if regulatory oversight requires additional information prior to assessing the product for commercialization.

Contrary to CBAN’s oft-made statements, the Codex Alimentarius has  never stated that stacking biotechnology-enhanced traits poses increased risks compared to conventional products.

In the case of SmartStax, CFIA reviewed scientific insect resistance modeling data and a proposed insect resistance monitoring plan. CFIA has also scrutinized the evidence that commercial release of SmartStax will offer increased potential for insect pests to adapt to the Bt corn traits.

Consistent with independent expert opinions, CFIA concluded the combination of multiple Bt proteins will provide effective control even of insects with some ability to overcome one or more of the proteins. The reduced refuge size permitted for SmartStax recognizes this regulatory conclusion and increases the acreage over which these advantages can be realized.

Farmers have clearly seen that seed enhanced through agricultural biotechnology is safe. Genetically modified crops and their food ingredients have been present in a wide variety of Canadian food products for more than a decade with zero reliably documented evidence of safety concerns for people or animals.

More than one trillion meals containing biotech ingredients have been consumed throughout the world over the past decade with zero cases of documented harm to human or animal health.

International bodies including the World Health Organization and the European Food Safety Agency have extensively studied genetically modified foods and have declared them safe. A European Commission report based on studies valued at 70 million euros and conducted over 15 years concluded that GM crops did not pose any new risks to human health or the environment beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding. Indeed, the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods.

Farmers want the latest technologies to allow them to produce more, conserve more and address the world?s growing demand for food. Only through continued investment and innovation by many players will Canadian agriculture continue to prosper and compete in a growing world.

We should, and do have, rigorous oversight of products of biotechnology in this country. Canadian regulations are set up to protect the safety of the Canadian environment, food and feed supply, and to enable innovations that can enhance this goal.

Given the high regard the Canadian regulatory system has throughout the world, we are confident our regulators continue to meet this objective.

2 responses to “GE Corn – Stacked traits lack assessment: Opinion

  1. This corn is already going to town in mason mi. it is a SAD DAY.I hope they burn in the hell the they have created!!!!

  2. SmartStax is just another false promise and another losing proposition for farmers and consumers.I know alot of midwest US farmers who want nothing to do with this crap.We are running out of time.If consumers and organizations dont act fast,we will be deluged with more untested and dangerous products like SmartStax.

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