The Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) told a conference in Portugal recently that governments should consider regulations that require special labels on all livestock feed produced using ingredients that have been genetically modified (GM).
Controversially, FAO also called on governments to "contain" the use of antimicrobials in feed and livestock production and consider the use of irradiation to control microbial agents in livestock feed.
FAO is part of the United Nations' (U.N.) system.
In a report to its regional conference on Europe, FAO recommended that governments "establish policies and programs for the evaluation, authorization and labeling of feed containing GMOs (genetically modified organisms)." FAO also caution that "these programs should be no more restrictive than required to meet legitimate objectives."
The issues of labeling feed produced using GMO ingredients, irradiation and restrictions on the use of antimicrobials are highly controversial within industry and government circles in many countries. Still, FAO decided to press ahead cautiously with recommendations for government action in these areas.
For antimicrobials, FAO said more research needs to be undertaken on the risk to human health of using these products in livestock production. The organizations said governments should curtail industry use of these drugs in areas like growth promotion.
"The need for the containment of anti-microbial resistance due to the use of anti-microbials in livestock, including their addition to feedstuffs, is gaining much attention," said FAO. "Anti-microbials are used for therapeutic, prophylactic or growth purposes, and, in the latter case, they are added to feed and/or water. Even first-line antimicrobials (e.g. glycopeptides) are being used as feed additives for growth promotion. The assessment and containment of public health risks associated with the use of antimicrobials in livestock is a matter of priority."
FAO also cautioned EU governments in its report that because of the volume of imported ingredients, it is inevitable European feed will contain GMOs.
"Given that approximately 60% of soybeans planted in the U.S. are GMOs, and this is a principal source for importing into Europe, it is inevitable that they are likely to be present in compound feeds made in the European region," said FAO. "This also applies to maize products."
The planting in error of GM oilseeds and corn has become controversial within the EU since last spring, after two seed companies reported that some of their seed sold to EU farmers was believed to have contained GM product. Opponents of GMOs demanded the crops be destroyed.
FAO acknowledged there is no proof at present that GM crops pose any risk.
"While there are no proven harmful effects about the transfer of modified DNA along the food chain, there has been public concern and recent incidents involving protests against this practice," FAO said.
The organization suggested governments encourage further research into any hazards associated with these crops. A more immediate task for the international community is to work out a global consensus on how to deal with GMOs, said FAO.
"What is essential in the short term, however, is to achieve consensus in the international community concerning the approach to the evaluation and regulation of GMOs in food and feed," FAO said in its report prepared for the July 24-28 conference in Porto, Portugal.
FAO said there is already international consensus in several areas in this debate over GMOs. These areas include:
* "That the concept of substantial equivalence elaborated by OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development) is the most practical approach to address the safety evaluation of food or feed components;
* "The safety evaluation itself should follow risk analysis principles as elaborated by relevant international organizations, including a precautionary approach in cases where there is insufficient knowledge or understanding to support an exhaustive risk assessment, and
* "There is also agreement on the consumer's right to be informed of how their food is produced."
The U.N. body makes a series of additional recommendations in its report, Food Safety & Quality as Affected by Animal Feedstuff. The complete report is available on the FAO web site.
These recommendations call on governments to review all existing feed legislation. FAO said governments should make sure they actively participate in the work of international standard setting bodies like the Codex Alimentarius. Governments should also actively support research into any public health risks associated with feed and integrate rapid testing procedures aimed at finding any hazards in feeds into their regulatory structure. FAO governments should make sure they use a multidisciplinary scientific approach when they regulate the feed industry. Governments should also encourage an active dialogue among livestock producers, the feed industry and regulators when they are designing regulations for the feed industry.
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Last Updated on 7/31/00
By Karen Lutz Benbrook