News | December 21, 1999

Natural Products Trade Group Petitions FDA for Stronger Oversight of GM Foods

The National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA), a natural products trade group, has filed a Citizen Petition with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking that the agency strengthen its evaluation process of genetically modified foods before allowing them to be sold.

The NNFA was critical of the FDA's current policy that essentially treats genetically engineered foods the same as conventional varieties.

"NNFA aims to ensure that the market entry of genetically modified foods does not outpace thorough scientific evaluations of their safety," said the association's president, Patrick Toomey.

Under the FDA's current policy, developed in 1992, a manufacturer can market a new genetically modified food if it convinces the FDA, through a ``private consultation,'' that the food is ``substantially equivalent'' to an existing substance already in the food supply. NNFA maintains that this process falls short in three areas:

  • it is voluntary, not mandatory
  • the substantial equivalence examination lacks well-defined risk assessment criteria
  • the process lacks the transparency needed for adequate public health protection because it is not open to participation by independent experts

As grounds for more careful scrutiny of genetically modified foods, the NNFA cites the unintended and potentially harmful side effects of these foods, such as the 1996 discovery of a Brazil nut allergen in transgenic soybeans and the more recent toxic effect of genetically modified corn on the Monarch butterfly.

"Nothing should be taken for granted when assessing the safety of a particular substance intended for human consumption that is derived from the emerging science of genetic engineering," the petition stated.

To view the NNFA's full petition, visit their website at

Edited by Pam Ahlberg

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