Seven more genetically engineered foods have passed a voluntary safety inspection, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday, but scientists questioned whether the FDA is scrutinizing such foods closely enough.
"I am a little troubled," Dr. Marion Nestle, an FDA adviser from New York University, told the agency. "It's as if FDA scientists have accepted these very complicated (safety) assessments on face value."
Among the new foods is a potato produced by Monsanto that naturally resists the Colorado potato beetle. The potato produces a natural pesticide that kills beetles that take a bite.
The FDA last spring approved the nation's first biotech food, Calgene Inc.'s Flavr-Savr tomato, which has a gene that allows it to ripen longer on the vine and still get to supermarkets without turning soft.
Now the agency has completed much more cursory safety inspections of the potato and six other genetically altered plants, FDA food safety chief Dr. Jim Maryanski said Wednesday.
Also approved were:
* Three more tomatoes, one that works like the Flavr-Savr and two with altered genes that slow the tomatoes' natural ripening, so they can be picked earlier and reach optimal ripeness by the time they hit store shelves.
* A squash genetically altered to resist two deadly viruses.
* Cotton that tolerates a common herbicide, bromoxynil, so farmers could use the herbicide. The cotton is intended to produce cottonseed oil for animal feed.
* Soybean plants that tolerate the herbicide glyphosate. Although the FDA said the plant will be used for animal feed, soybeans and soybean oil are consumed by people.
The FDA is preparing to mandate that it be notified before any genetically engineered food is marketed. That will give the agency a chance to decide what kind of safety review each needs. "We simply don't have the resources to give every plant that intensive review, and we don't see the public health need," Maryanski said.
But scientists warned that these foods must be watched closely to ensure that people with allergies aren't put in danger if, for instance, a nut protein is put into soybeans.
Some environmentalists were also concerned, Reuters reported.
Jeremy Rifkin, head of the Pure Food Campaign, a group opposed to the genetic engineering of food, said: "When you release a genetically engineered plant into the environment, the organisms are alive--they can reproduce, they can mutate and you cannot recall them to the laboratory."