Low levels of contamination were detected in 20 out of 74 countries surveyed by the FAO (excluding the European Union) last year, but as GM production increases around the world, concern is growing about the implications for international trade. There are now 30 countries producing GM crops, whether for research or commercial production, and more emerging all the time.
Speaking to Milling & Grains, FAO food safety officer Masami Takeuchi said that it was not unusual to see higher contamination incidents as global GM crop production increases.
“Improvements in the sensitivity of the test methods used to detect these GMOs also seems to play a role. Another factor relates to the frequency of testing. Some countries are conducting more intensive testing at their borders. The main concern is the disruption of trade between countries and the associated economic impact.”
Confused GM policies the cause?
A number of cases of low level presence (LLP, of authorised GM crops) and adventitious presence (AP of unauthorised crops) reported to the FAO were in seeds supplied to farmers, where accidental cross-contamination probably took place between non GM and GM crops in adjacent fields during breeding programs.
Trace amounts of GM crops can be passed to food and feed at various stages, in the field, during processing or packing, or in transit. Either way, when a product becomes contaminated it can spread across countries and over borders.
Most countries do not have specific rules or policies to control contamination in the environment making them susceptible to this type of contamination, but most agree that more co-operation and harmonisation between countries would reduce contamination.
Of those surveyed by the FAO, 38 countries believe the different policies on GM crops between trading partners has contributed to the risk of contamination and 17 countries admitted to not having any food safety, feed safety or environmental regulations on GM crops.
Risk assessment measures and regulations are in place to prevent and manage contamination but they vary from country to country and are not always legally binding.
Methods to improve monitoring of GM
The FAO has identified several policy options that could be improved to effectively monitor LLP’s in the future. These include implementing good practice measures and procedures; international collaboration; improved and optimized systems for crop and seed segregations; an information sharing database and capacity building to improve laboratories and train skilled technicians to increase detection rates.
Masami said: “Everyone in the food chain has a role to play and we would like to see countries sharing scientific information to help monitor contamination levels.”
“This is why we have developed an online information sharing platform to initiate more dialogue. Sharing data and information is one of the key activities where FAO members can engage in order to manage the international issues relevant to the problem.”