FSANZ outlines GM policy actions

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 27th July 2009

Australia’s food standards regulator has released an outline of a review report into regulation of genetically modified (GM) foods in Australia. The review was commissioned by FSANZ in May 2008, with international expert Dr William Yan* invited to dissect FSANZ’s safety assessment procedures for genetically modified (GM) foods.

The report provided comparison of the current FSANZ approach to GM food safety assessments against international best practice in the area.

It identified a number of strengths in the FSANZ approach to GM food safety assessments including the knowledge of scientific staff who assess GM food in the country; transparency of assessments; education of relevant stakeholders; and a strong international input.

Key Recommendations

Dr Yan’s report outlined six key recommendations for strengthening GM policy going forward.

1. Maintain strong scientific GM team and further strengthen expertise to address future challenges associated with the safety assessment of the next generation of complex GM food.

2. Enhance the engagement of external scientific expertise as appropriate to address future knowledge gaps in assessing the safety of GM food.

3. Investigate the feasibility of managing workload associated with the safety assessment of a GM food application.

4. Continue to engage and establish closer working relationships with other Australian and New Zealand regulatory agencies.

5. Continue to build on FSANZ’s strong international reputation as a leader in GM food safety assessment and explore mechanism(s) to enhance collaboration with international regulatory partners.

6. Continue to provide an open and transparent GM food safety assessment process and enhance the risk communication efforts with key stakeholders.

Proposed FSANZ Actions

The regulator has now responded with a new plan to tackle the issues raised in the report:

1. In the future, it is likely that FSANZ will receive applications for GM foods derived from species other than plants, e.g. GM animals. FSANZ will exploit recruitment opportunities to ensure that the scientific capability and technical expertise of staff in the GM team are appropriate to the changing needs of the organisation. FSANZ will also continue to participate in forums to keep abreast of future developments and ensure adequate skills within the organisation.(Recommendations 1 and 3)

2. The development and widespread commercialisation of GM crops results in the need for regulatory approvals to be obtained in many different countries. FSANZ will actively collaborate and share information on GM foods and assessment methodologies with regulatory partners overseas to promote consistency with internationally accepted processes. This could be achieved by using existing Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with other food agencies, exploring the possibility of new MoUs and utilising contacts established through existing networks including the International Chemical Food Safety Liaison Group.(Recommendation 4)

3. Working at the international level to share knowledge and expertise and to develop harmonised approaches to assessing GM food is integral to maintaining the rigor of the safety assessment process and, therefore, is an important component of FSANZ work. FSANZ (representing Australia) will continue to Chair and actively participate in the OECD Taskforce for the Safety of Novel Foods and Feeds and will maintain its role as delegation leader to the Codexad-hocIntergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology, should it be re-convened in the future. FSANZ will also consider participation at other forums, e.g. Expert Consultations, to continue to build capacity in assessing GM food.(Recommendation 5)

4. Strengthening capability, including ensuring adequate resources and expertise, will assist in meeting future challenges in relation to GM food safety assessment and enhancing the FSANZ knowledge base. FSANZ will investigate opportunities for FSANZ staff, external to the GM team, to undertake training to increase the pool of internal expertise available to undertake GM food safety assessments. The regulator will also consider expanding linkages with external experts, including through the FSANZ Fellows Program, to ensure an adequate breadth of scientific knowledge relating to GM food is covered. They will continue the practice of using external expertise to undertake ad-hoc peer reviews of GM food safety assessments. (Recommendation 1,2 and 3)

5. Communicating GM food safety assessment outcomes to a wide range of stakeholders continues to be a challenging process. FSANZ will actively consider ways to engage different stakeholders in the GM food safety assessment process. They will also continue to use existing forums such as the Consumer Liaison Committee (CLC), Retailers and Manufacturers Liaison Committee (RML) and the Jurisdictional Forum for sharing information related to GM food safety assessments. Additionally, due to the wide and varied nature of stakeholders interested in GM food, FSANZ will consider alternative communication mechanisms including webinars, to communicate GM food issues.

* Dr Yan is the Director of the Health Effects Division 1 in the Pest Management Regulatory Agency in Health Canada.