News » The Sixth Meeting of The ASEAN Genetically Modified Food Testing Network (ASEAN GMF Net)

(adm/Jul 23, 2009)

The Sixth Meeting of the ASEAN Genetically Modified Food Testing Network (ASEAN GMF Net) was held in Jakarta on 19-20 May 2009. The Meeting was attended by delegates from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Viet Nam and representatives from the ASEAN Secretariat.

Dr. Hasanudin Ibrahim, the Secretary General of Ministry of Agriculture of Indonesia welcomed all delegates to the Meeting. He highlighted that genetic modification technology in crop has made remarkable progress. The technologies have offered a promise for fulfilling some of the human requirement and responsibilities in facing the global challenges on food sector. In addition, with the world is currently facing emerging issues like rising food prices, higher energy costs and global warming, it is anticipated that GM foods would gain increasing acceptance. He further stressed that national and regional GM food testing capacities will continue to face great challenges in detection of unauthorized GM crops and in detecting events with stacks in one crop. The presentation recognized that the ASEAN GMF Net is an important initiative of the region to prepare our region to GM technology. It has served as an important avenue to exchange information and expertise. Lastly, he wished all delegates for a successful meeting and enjoyable stay in Jakarta. 

Dr. Paul Chiew King Tiong, Deputy Director for Veterinary Public Health of the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) of Singapore, also welcomed the delegates to the Meeting. As the coordinating country of the GMF Network, Singapore is encouraged by the progress of the Network, and highlighted that many of our economies have benefited greatly from the application of GM Food technology. It is expected that GM Food technology will continue to play a significant role in helping to secure food production in ASEAN when used judiciously. He also stressed that GM food technology can be used responsibly in agriculture only if there exists a science-based, transparent and efficient policy and regulatory framework, one that everyone – from scientists and technology providers to farmers and consumers – understands and has confidence in.  Therefore, he encouraged the GMF Net to constantly keep abreast with developments on how to address the continuing challenges of detecting unauthorized GM crops and dealing with increasing arrays of GMO varieties that have been approved by various countries. He believed that through the GMF Net, ASEAN can work towards enhancing the credibility of regulatory processes and to increasing public confidence and acceptance of GM foods. Finally, he extended his appreciation to the Government and Ministry of Agriculture of Indonesia for hosting this Sixth Meeting of the ASEAN GM Food Testing Network and for the warm hospitality and excellent arrangements made for all delegates.  

Two other speakers in the open session were, first, Mr. Kevin H. Eke from US-ASEAN Business Council (USABC) presented  a topic on “ Some Consideration in Testing for GMOs”, and second, Dr. Anne Bridges from The American Association of Cereal Chemistry (AACC International) presented a topic on “ Detection and Identification of Unapproved GMO Events in Food”.  The Meeting was informed that organizations that conduct test for GMOs include seed companies, grain handlers and food/feed companies, government agencies, and enforcement laboratories. USABC also highlighted that according to various international organizations and institutions, a testing for approved GMOs is not a safety issue. The collaboration and position of biotech companies for detection methods and reference materials were also discussed. It was explained that the role of companies in GMO testing are among others: develop detection methods, make detection methods available to the public, provide reference materials, and promote global methods harmonization.

It was also clarified that the detection methods and reference materials contain intellectual properties, which apply to non-commercial use; commercial use; method and material validation; analysis, characterization or the development of any derivative; publication; and duration of supply of materials.  USABC indicated its interest to work directly with the ASEAN GMF Testing Network to transfer the detection methods and reference materials to meet country’s regulatory testing needs while protecting intellectual property rights, as well as to collaborate on resolving technical issues to meet the needs and to standardize detection methods and reference materials on a global basis.   

A concern raised by the Meeting on how the countries should manage detection methods since different company offering different methods. It then was explained that the companies have the best knowledge of the detection methods for specific products, therefore it is advisable to consult and approach the companies, to compare different methods and tests applied in companies. It is further emphasizes that finding the best approach could be as an area that USABC and ASEAN can explore to work together on.  Another issue raised by the Meeting was on obtaining reference for unapproved materials/events. The USABC responded that this is a very delicate situation. There is some information to be found out such as knowing exactly what events to test and the existence of the materials, etc. A direct approach to the developer for consultation was suggested as an option in effort to solve the issue. 

The Meeting took note of the presentation by Dr. Anne Bridges from the American Association of Cereal Chemistry (AACC International) on “Detection and Identification of Unapproved GMO Events in Food”.  The presentation highlighted on the definition of an unapproved GM event, phases of safety assessment, global regulatory, some case studies, and related website to source information in relation to unapproved events. On the presentation, the Meeting was informed that unapproved GMO Events might be emerged due to mistaken analytical identification, geographical regions-asynchronous approvals and regulatory or political situation. Some of useful sources (web-reference) of information related to GMO regulatory and database were mentioned, among others: bio-safety clearing house which relate to Cartagena Protocol, US Regulatory Agencies United Biotechnology website. She also highlighted the steps on GM test which included: sampling; extraction/validation of methods; analysis; reporting; and anticipating possible issues such as reference materials, stacked events, safety risk, etc. Furthermore, the meeting was also informed reference on the web, community reference laboratory for GM food and feed. 

Singapore, as the coordinating country of the ASEAN GMF Testing Network, presented the progress report of the workplan on ASEAN GMF Testing Network. In summary, the Meeting made observation that in the context of GMF sector in ASEAN, there already exists good expertise in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam. In recognition of the different capacities among the countries, customized training for other Member States in need can be further explored by the GMF Net.  Singapore continues to seek cooperation from all ASEAN Member States to revisit the template and to provide complete inputs to the coordinating country, for finalization of the data. In order to reach the appropriate focal points and in the effort of completing the templates, the Meeting was of the view that the information should also be sought from other ASEAN bodies related to the work of the GMF. ASEAN Secretariat is requested to provide the current list of focal points of the related ASEAN bodies, namely: AEGFS, SCSFT, ATFC, and ACCSQ PFPWG. The Meeting agreed that the information of the focal points to be sent to Indonesia, as the current chair of the ASEAN GMF Net with copy to Singapore, as the coordinating country. Indonesia will in turn inform the focal points to provide the requisite information and data by 1 September 2009 to Singapore, with a copy to the ASEAN Secretariat. Malaysia presented the updated details on the Regional Training Centre which covers the facilities, laboratories, funding, programme, and target groups, which appears in  The Meeting recognized that Malaysia has served as the ASEAN Reference Laboratory (ARL) for the GMO under ASEAN-EC Cooperation. As the ARL has been including a training component under its work plan or programs, ASEAN Member States questioned the need for a separate regional training centre, citing reasons about funding, the economics of such a venture, and duplication of efforts. It was also pointed out that the proposed modus operandi of the Malaysia’s proposal was no different from that of an arrangement where ASEAN Member States could approach each other for their training needs.  

Furthermore, the Meeting was of the view that Malaysia and other ASEAN Member States which had been designated as ASEAN Reference Laboratories (ARLs) for related areas could also provide training as necessary in regard to these areas. There was no need to duplicate by establishing a separate ASEAN Regional Training Centre.  The proposed implementation mechanism and possible activities for the Training Centre were discussed at length. With a technical consideration that all the functions proposed for the Training Centre has been and can be further achieved by the existing ARL for the GMO. The Meeting further agreed that Malaysia can continue to provide necessary trainings to the ASEAN Member States under the existing capacity and recognition of the ARL.  The Meeting agreed that the Seventh and the Eighth Meetings of the ASEAN Genetically Modified Food Testing Network would be held in Malaysia in May 2010 and tentatively in Philippines in 2011.

 

Source of news: ICABIOGRAD, Bogor and ASEAN's office.