WASHINGTON _ A proposal by the Environmental ProtectionAgency to regulate the genetically engineered "pesticidal insertions"contained in plants designed to resist pests has come under fire fromthe Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).

Last November, the EPA defined a new category of substance,dubbed "plant-pesticides," that it proposed would be subject toregulation under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and RodenticideAct (FIFRA) and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act(FFDCA). Plant-pesticides were defined as "the novel pesticidalsubstances genetically introduced into plants for the purpose ofprotecting the plants against pests and diseases."

Bruce Chassy, chairman of IFT's biotechnology division, lashed outagainst the EPA's proposal late last week, saying it would curtaildevelopment of safe alternatives to chemical pesticides and stiflepublicly funded research in universities and government labs toimprove crops.

"If enacted, the proposed policy may cripple, if not extinguish, thedevelopment of safe, plant-based alternatives to chemical pesticidesby imposing the harsh burden of an expensive, cumbersome, case-by-case regulatory review process," said Chassy, who also chairs theDepartment of Food Science at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

"The outcome of the policy would be to centralize molecular plantbreeding in a few large corporations, reduce the number ofcommercially important plants that can be improved throughrecombinant DNA technology, increase the nation's reliance onchemical pesticides, and deliver market advantages to our globalcompetitors, all with no corresponding improvement in the safety ofthe environment or food supply."

The EPA's proposed regulation exempted three categories of plant-pesticides from regulation under FIFRA and three similar categoriesfrom tolerance requirements under the FFDCA. (See BioWorldToday, Nov. 21, 1994, p. 1.) EPA Administrator Carol Browner saidthe proposed rules would "establish a program that will ensure thesafety of the food supply and safeguard the environment."

Chassy criticized the EPA's proposed regulation for exempting fromreview pest-resistant plants produced using traditional breedingmethods. In the arena of genetically engineered whole foods andseeds, the battle over whether to regulate the end-product or theprocess that produced it rages among biotechnology companies,scientists and the EPA as well as other regulatory agencies like theFDA. Industry has argued that a "science-based" approach would beblind to the method of production and focus only on attributes of theend-product.

"By focusing on the method of plant breeding rather than thecharacteristics of the plant itself, EPA shifts its emphasis away fromthe safety characteristics of the plant toward the process of how theplant was created," charged Chassy. "There is no scientific basis forsuch a rationale."

IFT is a non-profit scientific society with 28,000 members. Itsbiotechnology division represents 900 members with "scientificexpertise or professional interest in food biotechnology." n

-- Lisa Piercey Washington Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.