With officials working to isolate every potential bioterroism threat, there persists the question: how safe is a food system where one government agency is responsible for cheese pizza and another for pepperoni?
That was the issue this week before Congress, where the knuckle-biting over the safety of the American food supply has become incessant. Indeed, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin wants up to $2 billion more to protect the nation's food supply, especially as it relates to the inspection of imported food. Harkin's concerns are backed by a General Accounting Office report suggesting the nation's fragmented food inspection system is highly susceptible to risk.
The bioterroism fears have focused global attention on an issue that those involved with food production have dealt with for years, albeit it in a more benign fashion. To be sure, the flap over food containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, once sparked similar concerns for consumers in Europe ... a continent all too familiar with food scares.
The European Union issued a report this week suggesting biotech crops may be SAFER than regular foods. European sentiment has typically sided against foods made with genetically modified organisms, or G-M-Os. In fact, a moratorium on the marketing of new G-M-Os has been in place for the past two years, much to the chagrin of U-S exporters.
The release of the E-U biosafety report could remove the GMO product freeze. The study summarizes 81 G-M-O research projects conducted over the past 15 years. The report asserts that more precise technology and greater regulatory scrutiny have probably made GMOs safer than conventional plants and foods. And, existing monitoring methods would rapidly detect any adverse environmental effects should any such effects exist.
E-U commissioner for consumer and health protection David Byrne was in the U-S this week advocating labels for biotech foods, a policy the U-S food industry is staunchly against.
David Byrne: "It's that area that (U.S.) industry feels concerned about because they feel that by labeling the food, we are in some respect stigmatizing the food. I take a different view. I take the view that you have to label the food so the consumers then know that they can choose or not to choose consuming that product."
U-S food manufacturers claim such a policy would be inconsistent and expensive. But, it may be more expensive NOT to label. The European Commission asserts labels are part of a general policy that could ultimately encourage GMOs to become more acceptable to the continent's consumers.
Byrne: "But also some of the blame, and a very substantial portion of the blame, must rest with industry in the United States. It must really be an example of how not to launch a product, the way this particular biotechnology was launch in the market in the United States. I suspect that it may very well be a part of the course of the Harvard or Yale business school. If you want to launch a product, examine how it was done in biotech, and don't follow that."
A report issued by the Iowa-based Council for Agricultural Science and Technology concludes U.S. regulators have done an adequate job of ensuring the safety and consumability of GMO crops. But a panel of food safety experts for the Council also found consumers would be better served if they knew more about the hows and whys of the regulatory process. A report issued by the panel concludes safety-testing data are available to the public, but that regulators need better resources to explain their decisions on genetically modified products.