New Zealand has strong grounds for rejecting the application to make GM lysine corn a legal food. Significant health risks remain untested and the credibility of New Zealand’s food safety regulation will be eroded unless it stands aside from the current assessment report.
The Trans-Tasman food safety regulator, FSANZ, has cleared the lysine corn for approval, but Food Safety Minister Annette King has wisely “paused” her decision and is assessing whether New Zealand should stand aside from Australia’s approval.
GM lysine corn – known as LY038 – was never intended to be a human food. However, if this animal feed is approved as a food, it would minimise legal risks for the developer.
Aspects of the assessment conducted by FSANZ raise serious concerns according to a detailed review by the Sustainability Council, released today. While FSANZ states that it takes “an explicitly cautious approach” to food safety, the Sustainability Council does not believe this was the case for the assessment of LY038.
There were a series of decision points at which a regulator acting with precautionary intent would have investigated a risk, rather than assume this was not warranted, the Sustainability Council states. FSANZ could have reserved judgement or asked the developer to provide further scientific evidence.
In order to satisfy its own safety standard, the regulator needed to demonstrate that LY038 was as safe as ordinary corn. The Sustainability Council believes it did not employ enough science to show whether this is or is not the case.
FSANZ has put forward certain findings that cannot be drawn from the information presented in its assessment report, but are instead assertions. These claims undermine trust and confidence not only in the LY038 decision but the regulatory system as a whole, according to the Sustainability Council.
This case study has wider significance because it identifies deficiencies in FSANZ assessment processes that could apply to other applications. It also sets an Australian precedent for the assessment of food plants that have been genetically modified to make industrial products (including biofuels and pharmaceuticals) – a precedent New Zealand should not adopt.
At two critical points in the FSANZ approval process, Annette King has called for a review or further advice rather than let the application proceed normally. Those actions have been consistent with a precautionary approach on her part. Now the question is whether she will take that approach through to reject the FSANZ recommendation and insist on stricter requirements for assessing GM foods in the future. She deserves acknowledgement for her efforts to date and public support to stay the course.
When examining the wider potential effects of an LY038 approval, FSANZ did not conduct an adequate cost benefit analysis, the Sustainability Council states. None of the three benefits put forward is a valid public benefit, and FSANZ did not count the public health risks that remain in absence of adequate safety investigations. If a value were placed on the residual health risks, and the absence of public benefits was acknowledged, the cost benefit analysis would show that an approval would result in net costs to the public.
FSANZ also has a statutory duty to consider alternatives to an approval that would be “more cost-effective”. Had it examined these, this should have revealed that the most cost-effective option was not approving LY038 and allowing lysine to continue to be added separately to animal feed.
Read the report: Food Safety Credibility