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Dr Shiv Chopra is concerned about the methods used to assess the safety of GE food in both Australia and Canada.
Dr Shiv Chopra is concerned about the methods used to assess the safety of GE food in both Australia and Canada.
FSANZ's review of GE food assessments a whitewash

Health Canada has been widely criticised for being too close to industry, and failing to adequately protect human health.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) states that the review was undertaken by “international expert” Dr William Yan. The review, commissioned amid criticisms that FSANZ acts as a rubber stamp to industry, is further proof that the food regulator’s methods are not independent or transparent.

The reviewer is an employee of Health Canada, the regulator that famously came under fire for not publicising a report raising grave concerns about the safety of Monsanto’s GE bovine growth hormone. More recently the regulator has also come under fire for allowing the authorisation of SmartStax, a multi-herbicide tolerant and multi-insecticide-producing GE corn variety, without requiring any safety tests.

 Dr Shiv Chopra, a former senior scientific advisor to Health Canada , visited Australia recently, warning that Australia must take a stand against GE foods. He says it is “interesting” that FSANZ should choose a Health Canada employee to support their actions in Australia. “Regarding food toxicology, FSANZ and Health Canada are chips off the same block,” Dr Chopra says. He says work coming out of Health Canada committees he worked on was “ignored or manipulated [by Health Canada] to favour the corporate interests”.

Greenpeace GE campaigner Louise Sales says, “A genuinely independent review of the ways in which FSANZ assesses the safety of GE foods is urgently needed. This pointless back slapping exercise does nothing to help protect the health of Australian consumers.”

Last year Ms Sales authored a report, Eating in the Dark, which outlined the problems with the ways in which FSANZ assesses the safety of GE foods. The report was endorsed by leading scientists and calls for an urgent review of the safety assessment regime for GE food and the comprehensive labelling of all GE food.

FSANZ is one of only a few regulators in the world to have approved every single application it has received for GE food products. Recently, there have been alarms raised internationally about GE foods that FSANZ has approved. In Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South Africa, more stringent food labelling laws are being passed, assessment processes are being reviewed and in some cases, foods are being banned.

In the Foreword to Eating in the Dark, Professor Jack A. Heinemann, a molecular biologist and director of the Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety in New Zealand, explains , that “FSANZ is a creation of flawed legislation that mixes the goals of trade and public health.” Dr Heinemann believes that FSANZ’s safety assessments for GE food  lack scientific rigour. “Too often when the facts don’t support the claim of safety, these facts are either dismissed or presumed unimportant,” he says. 

FSANZ has also been criticised for its lax labelling regulations – currently most foods with GE ingredients do not have to be labelled for GE content. A review of Australia’s food labelling laws by the Food Regulation Ministerial Council is expected to commence next month and will conclude in July 2010.

Independent safety testing on the health impacts of food derived from GE crops is remarkably limited. Leading health bodies such as the British Medical Association and the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) have raised concerns about the safety of GE foods and called for comprehensive testing and labelling.

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