The credibility of New Zealand’s food safety regulation has taken a significant hit today with the approval of GM lysine corn as a human food.
There were not just one or two compelling reasons to decline this application – its approval violates good regulatory practice on a series of grounds:
- A product designed as an animal feed and not intended for human consumption was nonetheless assessed by the regulators on the basis of safety standards lower than international guidelines provide for. The regulators had every ability to insist on adherence to international safety standards for new foods. The novelty of the nutritional profile alone provided good reason for insisting on at least this level of testing.
- There were a series of decision points at which precaution would have fully justified the investigation of a risk. The regulators have asserted safety but did not employ enough science to show whether or not lysine corn is as safe as conventional corn, as they claim it is.
- A product that offers no benefits to the consumer is being approved as a food when there are health risks (and thus potential costs to the public) that remain untested. A cost benefit analysis that took full account of these risks would recommend rejection of the application. The regulators have instead approved a transfer of risk from the developer and users to the public.
- The decision sets a disturbing precedent for the safety testing of food plants that have been genetically modified to make industrial products (including biofuels and pharmaceuticals). It lays the ground for routine contamination of the foodchain by such products that are not intended as food but would be safety tested below the levels international guidelines provide for when assessing a new food.
- The regulators failed to adequately examine alternatives to an approval, such as effective segregation from food production or simply continuing to feed lysine to animals separately. The approval sets no limit on the extent of lysine corn content in food.
The application provided a clear test of the regulatory regime and the approval marks it as deeply flawed. This decision undercuts the credibility of Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority, and the assurances they offer to consumers of New Zealand food, at home and abroad.