Subjecting substances added to food via genetic engineering to the same regulatory requirements as substances added to foods via more traditional means, thus placing the burden on industry to substantiate scientifically the safety of substances added to foods via genetic engineering.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is mainly concerned with protecting the environment from the consequences of genetic engineering. For instance, genes that make crops herbicide-resistant could spread by pollination to weedy relatives, creating "superweeds". Or fish given genes to make them grow faster might muscle out the native fish population in seeking food or mates. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is not really aimed at risks to human health from food made using biotechnology. It contains only some vague language saying that such risks should be taken into account. The treaty also does not address whether consumer products containing genetically altered ingredients, such as cornflakes made with bioengineered corn, should be labelled as such on store shelves. It deals only with labelling commodities such as wheat or corn during international shipments.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the testing of genetically engineered foods is largely voluntary - more than 90% of these foods require no safety tests before they appear on supermarket shelves. More importantly, these new foods are not labelled as such, so consumers do not know what they are eating. More stringent safety standards are critical in order to avoid potentially devastating human health risks.
In 1999 in Britain, it was illegal for genetically engineered (GE) crops to be commercially grown. All GE plantings were part of field tests governed by the biotech companies. In 2000, seven European supermarket chains announced they would not sell genetically modified foods. Three large food multinationals, followed suit.
European consumers in particular, citing potential risks to human health and the environment, have become increasingly militant in their rejection of American food that contains genetically modified grains or soybeans. However in the USA, 70 million acres of GE crops were grown in 1998 alone. Estimates put 60 percent of the American diet consisting of genetically engineered foods, an alarming statistic when surveys show that most Americans don't know what GE food is. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that manufacturers voluntarily consult with the agency before bringing genetically engineered foods to market. However, because these consultations are outside the regulatory system, they are not subject to public scrutiny and are not a satisfactory substitute for a regulatory programme.
The Supreme Court in India has upheld a ban on testing genetically modified crops. Activists in India have set fire to fields of crops suspected of being used for testing.
The expansion of GM agriculture in the US will make it harder for consumers elsewhere to avoid them. The problem that Europeans have is that most of the GM foods they have are coming from the US. No matter how much public pressure Europe's activists raise, it will do little to halt the onward march of GM produce as long as the US continues to back the technology.
Existing legislation is plagued by a double standard that defies reason. The idea that herbicide resistant crops produced by genetic engineering are inherently more hazardous than ones produced by conventional techniques is simply nonsense. Potential adverse effects, may be just as likely to occur as a result of conventional plant breeding programmes.