The Food Standards Agency wants to usher in a new regulatory regime for ‘genetically modified precision-bred organisms’ (PBOs). That’s PR spin for ‘synthetic biology’ (synbio), itself a marketing term for genetic engineering.
It would allow most PBOs to enter the marketplace unlabelled and untested.
The laid-back green-lighting of such unconventional food constructions rides roughshod over consumers’ clearly stated wish to know if a product has been manufactured using GM ingredients or methods.
The FSA’s stance circumvents established laws governing novel foods and substances granted GRAS (generally recognised as safe) status. It insults public opinion in the UK, which has consistently shown no appetite for genetically remodelled food.
Perhaps this is why the FSA has squeezed its public consultation on this radical departure from the status quo into an abbreviated consultation period, when our attention is focused on festivities. The timescale is high-handed, even sneaky.
PBOs have the potential to change common foods in unprecedented, unpredictable, and potentially disastrous ways that could irrevocably alter how our genes function. This could trigger many health problems, like unexpected toxins and allergens.
I was deeply troubled to see a new study from the US Health Research Institute carried out by molecular biologist Dr John Fagan. He works at the cutting-edge of mass spectrometry. This full-spectrum molecular analysis is currently the most sophisticated, in-depth way to identify compounds in foods.
When Fagan analysed an alternative dairy product, ‘synbio milk’ – precision fermented milk – against real organic and biodynamic milk, he discovered no fewer than 92 novel compounds in it that are unknown to science. None of them have been evaluated for safety. The synbio milk also had a different nutritional composition, less riboflavin (vitamin B2), for instance.
So much for the fiction that gene-edited foods are no different from the real foods they ape. They are.
But unlike Fagan, I doubt anyone in the FSA, so glib with the biotech industry’s script, has bothered to drill down into the detail of the so-called ‘precision breeding’ process. It is clearly anything but precise.
Keep these novel foods off our shelves, or require an on-pack warning.