As I mentioned on Tuesday, I attended a special conference on the Governance (and Ethics) of Emerging Technologies this week (here).
The conference was absolutely fantastic.
One of the speakers was Jeff Morris of the US EPA speaking on the US EPA GM/Symbio Algae Guidance Project.
Mr. Morris stated that in the last 6 months the EPA has received more GM algae safety approval requests than ever before. The EPA regulates synthetic micro-organisms under the 1997 Biotech Rule:
TSCA Biotechnology Regulations http://www.epa.gov/biotech_rule/pubs/biorule.htm actual document is here http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-1997-04-11/pdf/97-8669.pdfEPA is seeking ethical guidance and societal debate about this issue of GM algae. Mr. Morris did not elaborate upon the significance of algae's role on the bottom of the food chain but the implications are clear. GM algae could end up bio-magnifying across the food chain with no clear understanding of the long-term effects.
During the Q&A session, an audience member asked Mr. Morris whether EPA has the regulatory purview to evaluate the safety of products that are already on the market.
The Toxic Substance Control Act passed in the 1976 (see here) grandfathered in something like 75,000 chemicals without safety testing. The TSCA does not give the EPA authority to test grandfathered chemicals unless their is clear evidence of harm.
There are efforts underway to update the TSCA. Here is one effort that I believe we should support:
The Opinion Pages | Editorial
Stronger Regulation of Toxic Chemicals
[excerpt]… The bill, whose chief sponsors are Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, and David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, would allow the E.P.A., when assessing chemicals for safety, to consider only health and safety impacts, not the cost or burden for manufacturers, as current law requires. It would mandate special protections for vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, infants, the elderly and chemical workers. And it would impose a new fee on chemical companies to bear more of the cost of evaluating and regulating chemicals.At the insistence of Senate Democrats, the bill would allow states to use their own employees to enforce federal standards within their boundaries, providing additional manpower to police the chemical industry. It would send $18 million in annual fees paid by the industry directly to the E.P.A., not to the Treasury, providing a hefty boost to the agency’s $54 million budget for these purposes. And it would allow states to avoid a so-called dead zone in which they are pre-empted from acting once E.P.A. starts to analyze a chemical, a process that can take years, by allowing states to apply for a waiver that is likely to be granted.