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article imageGM crop contamination disrupts global food trade

By Robert Myles     Mar 16, 2014 in Food
Rome - Increased production of genetically modified crops worldwide has caused a sharp rise in the number of incidents where low levels of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been found in food and feedstuffs traded between nations, disrupting trade.
These are the findings of a new survey by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The FAO took soundings from 75 countries on questions concerning low levels of GM crops in the international food and animal feed trades. Between 2002 and 2012, 198 such incidents were reported with the FAO reporting a “steep acceleration” after 2009. Between 2009 and 2012, 138 out of the 198 total incidents were reported.
Difficulties are caused by some countries working on the basis that shipments of food and foodstuffs are unacceptable if GMOs are found at a level where detection is possible, i.e. very low or “trace” levels. Other countries make decisions based on the acceptable level of GMOs for a particular commodity. The position is further complicated since what's an acceptable level of GMOs in the country of export may differ from that permitted in the importing country.
As yet, there is no international agreement defining universal, acceptable, low-level GMOs entering the food chain.
The ground-breaking survey revealed that the highest number of incidents involved linseed, rice, maize and papaya. Shipments with low levels of GM crops originated mainly from the US, Canada and China, although other countries were involved to a lesser extent. When unacceptable levels of GMOs are found in shipments, such shipments are usually destroyed or returned to sender.
“The incidents have led to trade disruptions between countries with shipments of grain, cereal and other crops being blocked by importing countries and destroyed or returned to the country of origin,” said the FAO in a news release.
Renata Clarke, FAO Senior Food Safety Officer in charge of the survey, added, “The numbers of incidents are small relative to the millions of tonnes of food and feed traded every day," continuing, "But because trade disruptions may be very costly, and given the reported increase in the occurrence of these disruptions, FAO conducted this survey and is holding a technical consultation to try to start a dialogue between countries on the issue."
Suggesting that the FAO survey may just be scratching the surface of what seems likely to become a growing problem for the international food trade, Clarke added, “We were surprised to see incidents from every region. It seems the more testing and more monitoring they do, the more incidents they find."
The survey found that some countries do not even have the capacity to test for GMO content. Out of the 75 countries surveyed, 35 reported having little or no capacity to detect GMOs. The laboratories, technical expertise and equipment were simply absent.
Among the other findings from the survey were:
1. 30 countries produce GM crops, either for research, commercial production or both. More GM crops are in the development phase
2. 17 countries don’t have any food safety, feed safety or environmental regulations on GM crops
3. 55 countries operate a zero-tolerance policy for unauthorized GM crops
The results of the survey will be discussed at an FAO-led technical consultation to be held in Rome on Mar. 20-21 at which the extent and pattern of trade disruption caused by GMO food and feedstuffs shipments will be reviewed. The meeting will focus on trade issues related to low levels of GM crops and the FAO stressed that the merits and demerits of GM crops would not be up for discussion.
Nonetheless, what emerged from the survey was a demand from some countries for FAO help in assessing whether GM crops were safe to eat. To that end, to encourage countries to share scientific assessments of the safety of GM foods, the FAO has established the web-based GM Foods Platform for the specific purpose of sharing data on safety assessments.
More about Gmo, gm crops, Genetically modified food, Genetically modified, Genetically modified organisms
 
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