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Daily News Archive
From February 13, 2001

Canadian Panel Raises Questions About the Testing of GM Food and Crops

According to a February 9, 2001 report released by the Royal Society of Canada, three strains of oilseed rape plant, which were engineered to be resistant to a particular pesticide, have merged to form a plant resistant to many different pesticides. This new plant has become a major problem in the Canadian prairies, invading cereal areas and causing farmers to resort to the use of broad-spectrum herbicides to get rid of them - the chemicals that the plants were designed to render obsolete.

The report, which pointed out that technology is still driving agricultural production along a route of chemical dependency, arrived on the heels of a February 5, 2001 press release by The Royal Society of Canada. According to the press release, The Expert Panel on the Future of Food Biotechnology put forward fifty-three recommendations for the regulation of genetically modified (GM) crops and food, including the adoption of the "precautionary principal" as a framework for assessing new technologies. The Panel was critical of the level of secrecy surrounding testing of new GM products, and recommended that an external review of GM product approvals be introduced, and that public access to the test results be increased.

The Panel also concluded that, mandatory labeling of GM foods should only be required where there is scientific evidence of significant risks to certain members of the population, such as those with allergies. The logic behind the labeling recommendation: if thorough testing were carried out, then mandatory labeling of all GM products would be unnecessary. The Panel encouraged Canadian regulatory agencies to establish guidelines for the regulation of reliable voluntary labels.

Conrad Brunk of the University of Waterloo and chair of The Panel stated, "When it comes to human and environmental safety, there should be clear evidence of the absence of risks; the mere absence of evidence is not enough."