Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
October 11, 2000
With farmers in his state threatened by worries about gene-altered food, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin called in the Food and Drug Administration to defend the way the government regulates the new food.
What he heard was not reassuring.
"I found a lot of gaps," said Durbin, a Democrat.
Those meetings led Durbin to write the Genetically Engineered Food Act, a moderate approach to strengthening government oversight of genetic engineering that Durbin intended to introduce in the Senate today.
"I came to this with an open mind," Durbin said. "I thought that many have condemned genetic-engineered food without scientific evidence of danger. I know and history teaches us that science has improved our food supply and solved a lot of environmental problems."
Durbin's legislation would give the FDA the power to approve genetically modified foods, rather than the voluntary system of consultation between companies and the government now in place.
It also would give the FDA sampling authority in order to prevent unauthorized foods derived from genetic engineering from entering the food supply. Last month, Kraft Foods, an Illinois-based company, announced that it was recalling 2.5 million boxes of taco shells after it was disclosed by advocacy groups that some of them contained a genetically modified ingredient approved only for animal feed.
After that incident, Durbin told his colleagues he feared that the incident could be the first of many such damaging disclosures.
"If it happened once, when environmental groups examined just a handful of foods, what might be found when thousands of food products are tested?" he asked on the Senate floor.
Durbin's legislation also would require the FDA to release to the public more of its studies and materials related to modified food.
The Durbin proposal stops short of calling for mandatory labeling of modified foods, a change that critics are demanding.
"The problem with labeling is that it creates a suspicion that there is reason to be concerned," Durbin said. "I think labeling is more for political than scientific reasons."
The Senate won't be taking up Durbin's legislation this year. Durbin said he expects his proposals to be a starting point for debate over genetically modified food in the 2001 Congress.
"There are likely to be more bills, and I want mine to be in the mix," he said. "I'm looking for the best plan."
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Last Updated on 10/26/00