On July 2 just before the holiday weekend, the White House announced instructions from four federal agencies for “Modernizing the Regulatory System for Biotechnology Products.”
It was directed at the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and USDA.
A major directive was an “independent study” of health aspects of genetically engineered crops. After more than two decades of using the U.S. populace as lab rats for GMOs, this is the first indication from the executive branch that an “independent” health evaluation of GMOs is needed.
You can download the PDF of the White House memorandum at this link. (Note that one of the four authorities behind the directive is Darci Vetter, Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the United States Trade Representative.)
Several public-interest groups who are intently challenging the safety of GMO crops were enthused about the memo. They claimed that finally, their activism has jolted at least one federal administration into keeping its promise for a thorough, long-term, epidemiology based analysis of how GMO traits and their related toxic chemistries are impacting the health of U.S. citizens. Finally, it seemed, this administration is intent on searching for reasons why rates of most major chronic diseases in America are going parabolic. An example of this hopeful reading is this report from the Natural Society website.
However, if you read all the ponderous language of the memo, its real thrust is focused on streamlining the approval process for new genetically engineered organisms. Removing the checks and balances between EPA and FDA, for example.
There is no specific definition in the memo of what an “independent” safety study should do, or what it should be “independent” from. It’s only a little surprising that there’s a call for a safety evaluation at all, which is a tacit admission that the 30-day and 90-day feeding trials and toxicology studies done on GMOs aren’t really “safety” studies intended to discover long-term, complex nutritional relationships of GMOs.
The White House directive’s main purpose is clearly stated: “The objectives are to ensure public confidence in the regulatory system and to prevent unnecessary barriers to future innovation and competitiveness….”
The U.S. public is increasingly dubious as to whether these agencies are protecting their well-being. There is a growing array of on-line activist organizations challenging GMO technology and the bureaucrats overseeing it. These groups are gradually presenting disturbing facts which are chipping away at the nearly universal presumption among federal lawmakers that biotech crops are safe and ready to save the world.
One of the most revealing signals of the real intent of the White House directive is that the US Trade Rep’s chief negotiator signed on as one of the authorities. In recent years, dragged-out approvals of GMO crops has frustrated the major biotech firms. By assuming an authority in this White House “memo”, the USTR can push for faster approvals of new traits so importing countries have fewer excuses to stave off GMOs.
Bottom line is that the memo is just buying time for business as usual, providing a pretext that “We’re working on modernization of the regulatory process.”