U of Minnesota leads effort to break impasse over GMO safety

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL--For the first time, parties on both sides of the controversy over genetically modified food are coming together to set industrywide safety standards. Led by researchers at the University of Minnesota, the Safety First Initiative brings together representatives of business, science, public interest, environmental and consumer organizations. In a commentary to be published in the June 2003 issue of Nature Biotechnology, University of Minnesota professors Anne Kapuscinski and Lawrence Jacobs and others describe the formation of working groups to set standards for building human and environmental safety into the entire development process for two classes of genetically modified organisms (GMOs): fish modified for increased production in fish farms and plants modified to produce pharmaceuticals. The group hopes to see such standards become the basis for regulation of GMO safety much as general food safety is now regulated and monitored, Jacobs said.

The Safety First Initiative comes in response to well-publicized battles over the safety of GMO food. European unease has slowed American exports of GMO crops, which are now the focus of a battle in the World Trade Organization. In the United States, consumer and public interest organizations that doubt the safety of GMO products are facing off against businesses that are intent on recouping huge investments in GMOs and fending off liability claims and losses from product failures.

"We need a new approach to governing biotechnology that breaks free of the polarized debate and regulatory stalemate," said Kapuscinski (Cap-oo-SHIN-ski), a professor of fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology and first author of the commentary. "This initiative is building a rare and extraordinary convergence among previously acrimonious parties in the agricultural biotechnology debate."

The initiative's executive advisory board and steering committee are organizing working groups to draft stand

Contact: Deane Morrison
University of Minnesota

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