Thumbs Down On FDA Rules For Biotech Food

Washington, D.C.  January 17, 2001 – The Competitive Enterprise Institute issued a strong condemnation of proposed new regulations for genetically-engineered foods released today by the Food and Drug Administration.  “This  scientifically groundless proposal is an obvious capitulation to anti-biotechnology agitators,” said Gregory Conko, CEI’s Director of Food Safety Policy.  “Biotech foods aren’t inherently less safe than other foods, so singling them out for greater oversight simply can’t be justified on any grounds other than interest group politics.”

Dozens of scientific organizations, including the US National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Health Organization have found that biotech foods do not inherently pose different risks from non-biotech plants – a point that the FDA acknowledges in its proposal.  FDA also expressed confidence that its current policy “adequately address[es] both the scientific and regulatory issues” raised by biotech foods.

Nevertheless, industry advocates of agricultural biotechnology support the FDA’s proposal because they believe it does not represent a fundamental change from current regulatory practice.  “But this support may backfire on the industry,” said Conko.  “FDA’s willingness to bow to pressure groups could make biotech foods an even bigger lightening rod for activists.”

Under the proposed rule, manufacturers wishing to sell genetically-engineered crop plants are required to submit a pre-market notification to the FDA four months prior to marketing their products.  The FDA can then extend this review by an additional four months, and it can ultimately refuse permission for the products to be marketed.  “The rule grants FDA too much discretion to decide how much or how little information is necessary to satisfy critics,” said Conko.  “It also gives them authority to arbitrarily withhold approvals indefinitely, regardless of safety.”

Many in the biotechnology industry also believe that the public will be reassured by FDA’s increased oversight.  “But most of the people who are skeptical of biotech foods, simply don’t realize how much testing is already conducted or how stringent the current regulations are.  So making those rules tougher isn’t likely to help” said Conko.  “Expecting people who are uninformed today to be fully informed tomorrow is ludicrous.”

CEI is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.  For more information, contact Richard Morrison, director of media relations, at [email protected] or 202-331-1010, ext. 266.