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ecoglobe [yinyang] news (9 May1999)
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Report of the Lay Panel of 8 May 1999 on Genetically Engineered Foods        

Draft Responses to Question 7

Original Question 7 from August 1996 forum
How can we ensure that appropriate regulations necessary to safeguard the interests of New Zealanders are developed?

Expanded for the May 1999 Forum to:
Question 7a.
How is food regulated in New Zealand at present?

Response heard from Andrew McKenzie of MAF Regulatory Authority. Accompaning slides will be used for the report.

Question 7b.
What are the legal safeguards, at all points of the food production and marketing chain, which protect New Zealanders from any possible adverse effects from genetically engineered foods and are they adequate?

Currently the legal safeguards are provided by ERMA and ANZFA through their notification and assessment function. Enforcement will be provided by the soon to be instituted Food Assurance Authority and, for existing legislation, by the Commerce Commission.

Notwithstanding this, the panel is concerned that ERMA and ANZFA do not have adequate facilities to fully analyse and assess new organisms and new food ingredients.

The producers and manufacturers are unduly influencing the regulatory process because

  • they have ignored the May 13 deadline and the Government has allowed this with no penalty
  • we are unsure that the information given by the applicant will be adequately assessed by the regulatory authorities

We recommend that there be greater consumer representation on the boards of ERMA, ANZFA and the Food Assurance Authority.

With respect to legal safeguards there is a need to set up an indemnity fund to cover any future claims resulting from the ingestion of foods with a GM component. Further this should be funded by the producers and processors and not result in an increased cost to the consumers.

We reinforce that the onus be on the producers and processors to provide a full assessment of the risks, costs and benefits associated with their application. It is a responsibility of the regulatory authorities, therefore, to assess compliance.

Legal safeguards also need to address the issue of long-term testing for health risks, such as allergens, as a part of a legal compliance. This should encompass all foods containing a GM component and not just those known to have adverse effects.

The recent example of extending the enactment of the ANZFA legislation by 14 months is unacceptable and the reasons for doing so reflect the lack of a pro-active approach by the necessary authorities.

It is the panelís belief that although regulatory bodies have been set up they have yet to show that they provide a sufficient level or standard of legal protection against any possible adverse effects.

Question 7c.
Who approves, monitors and enforces the legal safeguards?

At present ERMA approves and monitors applications for new organisms and ANZFA approves and monitors applications for new food ingredients. The yet to be established Food Assurance Authority is required to enforce regulations/ standards of ANZFA. We are concerned that it may not have the legal clout, nor the enforcement funding required. We think adequate enforcement funding must be found, from Government and producers. It must not be a charge on consumers.

Decisions by ERMA & ANZFA should involve a lay panel. The Commerce Commission should be involved. The onus of proof that a product is safe must rest squarely on producers. Test results from only one testing agency should not be accepted by the Food Assurance Authority.

Redress, in the event of a major health disaster arising directly from the proven use of GMF is a matter that needs to be addressed. Insurance companies will not provide cover.

The panel believes an indemnity fund should be set up.

Question 7d.
At what points and in what ways do consumers have input into the decision making processes regarding GMFs?

The New Zealand consumer has insufficient input into the decision making processes regarding genetically modified organisms (GMO).

Currently, the three bodies providing the regulatory framework for the assessment of GMO's are the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), the Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) and the Food Assurance Authority (FAA) (as of 1 July 1999).

ERMA facilitates public input via submissions, and in a small number of cases, a hearing may result, which can include some level of public input.

There are two levels at which the public can become involved in ANZFA's assessment of genetically modified foods (GMF's). The first is via submissions seeking public comment and, later, following a full assessment of GMF's, the public may comment more specifically on the proposal made by ANZFA, in regard to that particular GMF.

The FAA propose to act in Afull consultation with representatives of stakeholders though their commitment to public input is, as yet, unknown.

The current submission process is limited, in that while public response to submissions can be significant, in fact only a small percentage of those submissions contain the factual information deemed necessary to make them valid for consideration.

While calls for submissions are generally placed in major newspapers, bulletins, on web sites and by direct advice to interested parties, the panel still believes that the process itself can be an intimidating experience for the average member of the public despite the fact that they may have a valid point to make. In order to address this we recommend that scientists consider putting in place a system whereby people who have the interest in making a submission, but lack the scientific knowledge to do so, are assisted with this process.

The panel believe that it is essential that members of the public are included in the actual decision making processes regarding the assessment of GMO's by public representatives being elected onto the boards of such bodies as ERMA, ANZFA and eventually FAA.

Question 7e.
Can we be assured that an adequate labelling system will be put in place?

No.

The proposed New Zealand model is to label foods as does contain, may contain , and does not contain with exemptions. We believe that there is a need for only two categories does and does not. We don't believe there should be exemptions for highly refined products such as oil. For a manufacturer to claim the does not category, there needs to be an audit trail proving the validity of their claim.

New Zealand producers may see value in forming an organisation such as GM Free Producers Organisation. This would help New Zealand food producers supply a selection of GM free products. Members of this organisation could use a distinctive logo to easily distinguish these foods. We believe this would give those producers a competitive advantage. The Food Assurance Authority should monitor and spot test the products carrying the logo. An education process would need to be implemented to inform the public of the logo significance.

Supermarkets and other food outlets should be encouraged to supply product information in plain language.

Draft Conclusions

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ecoglobe [yinyang] news (9 May 1999)
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