European food safety authorities reject GM corn that can be used in NZ

Europe’s food safety regulator has rejected a form of GM corn that is legal to use in New Zealand foods, according to a press release from the Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety at the University of Canterbury.

The same product was approved by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) in 2010.

The new GM corn’s rejection by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) upholds a standard set by the international food safety guidance body known as Codex. This requires assessments of GM foods to be made with reference to the conventional food it was derived from.

The Agency’s GMO Panel said:

“In the absence of an appropriately performed comparative assessment by the applicant, the EFSA GMO Panel was not in the position to complete its risk assessment on maize 98140 and therefore does not conclude on the safety of maize 98140 compared with its conventional counterpart with respect to potential effects on human and animal health.”

The key defect in the safety assessment was the use by the developer, DuPont Pioneer, of an incorrect line of maize to use as a comparator to detect possible harms that might be caused by the GM maize.

This comparator, called a negative segregant, was found to have been another GM maize. The comparator accordingly had no pre-existing history of safe use on which to base a claim of safety for the GM maize under consideration by the authority.

“As negative segregants are derived from a genetically modified organism, the GMO Panel does not consider them appropriate conventional counterparts with a history of safe use” EFSA said.

A comparative risk assessment is the most common way of assessing the safety of GM-derived foods, the Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety says.

In this case, if it had compared two foods that have no history of safe use, the authority was in danger of overlooking new potential hazards that the two GM maize lines had in common.

This is not the first GM food that FSANZ has approved as safe using the same flaw in its assessment. In perhaps the first case of its kind, the University of Canterbury Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety (INBI) challenged FSANZ over this practice in its approval of high lysine corn LY038 eight years ago. FSANZ rejected the concerns of INBI at the time. However, EFSA raised this issue with the corn’s developer, Monsanto, and as reported (Christchurch Press, 2 November 2009) Monsanto withdrew plans to grow the maize rather than address EFSA’s safety concerns.

High lysine corn and the new GM corn just rejected (98140) both remain approved for consumption by the people of Australia and New Zealand despite other regulators being unable to determine the safety of these products. In addition, FSANZ has approved as safe for use as food at least two other products that used the incorrect comparator: a soybean line called DP-305423-1-1 and the amylase corn line 3272.

FSANZ Chief Scientist Dr. Paul Brent told National Radio’s Nine to Noon programme on 28 March 2013 “that all of the regulators around the world do the GM food safety assessments in the same way we do…I’m talking about the European Food Safety Authority that has a GM Panel.”

If FSANZ is to indeed align with EFSA, as well as Codex guidelines, then it will need to revoke the relevant approvals, the university statement concludes, the statement contends.

No name is attached to the statement.

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