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The BBC's Paul Reynolds
"The move is in response to internationally expressed concerns"
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Wednesday, 3 May, 2000, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
US to strengthen bio-food rules
Soya BBC
GM soya: Common ingredient of processed foods
US President Bill Clinton has put forward new proposals to regulate genetically-modified (GM) crops and the labelling of foods that claim to be free of gene-altered ingredients.

The move has been designed to reassure US consumers about the safety of some of the novel foods now on supermarket shelves. But the measures fall short of the changes demanded by some campaigners.

Biotechnology companies will now have to supply more data about the safety of their GM plants.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will insist on submission of research results and data rather than relying on the current voluntary system that has been in effect for the past eight years.

Once the FDA reviews a biotech food, the agency's conclusions and product safety data will then be posted on its website for consumers to read.

Food labels

The FDA will also launch a process to develop guidelines for companies that want to put labels on foods indicating whether they contain GM ingredients or not. These guidelines will not be mandatory.

"FDA's scientific review continues to show that all bioengineered foods sold here in the US today are as safe as their non-bioengineered counterparts," Commissioner Jane Henney said.

"We believe our initiatives will provide the public with continued confidence in the safety of these foods."

The Clinton administration's Council on Environmental Quality will also begin a six-month assessment of the federal environmental regulations related to agricultural biotechnology.

Immediate reaction from the food industry was positive. "We think this is a good step to make sure that this process is open and transparent," said Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America.

Human health

Some activist groups were less than enthusiastic, however.

These groups said the proposals would do nothing to monitor the long-term impact on human health and the environment of GM foods.

They had argued for additional testing of crops and mandatory labelling for all products containing GM ingedients.

"This plan is like some fat-free foods. It's not very good and there isn't much substance," said Rebecca Goldburg, a senior scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund.

"It is yet to be seen whether the details of a mandatory pre-market approval process will meet the public's need for assurance of safety," said Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Consumer Federation of America's Food Policy Institute.

The FDA will seek comments from the public before any new rules take effect.

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29 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
GM deal finds favour all round
06 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
GM food 'safe'
24 Nov 99 | Americas
GM crop warning for US farmers
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