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Eye on Washington

March 30, 2003
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Judge dismisses biotech policy lawsuit. In late September, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a challenge to the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) regulatory policies concerning genetically engineered foods. The Alliance for Bio-Integrity and other public interest and religious groups had made allegations about the legality of FDA's 1992 Policy Statement, Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties."

Among other rulings, the court deferred to FDA's view that genetically engineered foods as a class do not require premarket review and approval of a food additive petition. The court also accepted FDA's view that special labeling for genetically engineered foods as a class is not required solely because of consumer demand or because of the process used to develop these foods. In a nutshell, the ruling allows FDA to consider foods produced through biotechnology to be essentially the same as conventional foods.

Several industry groups, including the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) and Grocery Manufacturers of America applauded the decision. "The U.S. District Court's decision supports NFPA's long-held positions that premarket notification, not premarket approval, should be required, and that the biotechnology process, in and of itself, does not warrant special labeling requirements," said Dr. Rhona Applebaum, NFPA's executive vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs.

Mary Sophos, GMA senior vice president, government affairs, noted that FDA and other government agencies that regulate biotechnology are already taking steps to strengthen their oversight of genetically engineered products. "GMA was an early proponent of a proposed FDA policy that would require a mandatory review by FDA of all new plant biotechnology products," she said. FDA is currently finalizing a mandatory review proposal that will be open for public comment in the coming months.

In the meantime, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin has proposed legislation that would help protect consumers by requiring screening of genetically engineered foods by FDA. The bill was introduced October 11 in the wake of the nationwide recall of 2.9 million boxes of taco shells inadvertently made with unapproved genetically engineered corn. NFPA called the bill "well-intentioned, but premature."

"We need to let FDA take action and solicit public comment on its regulatory initiatives before considering legislation that may have the unintended effect of eroding confidence in FDA's authority," said Brian Folkerts, NFPA vice president of government affairs.

Stay tuned.

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