Genetically modified foods pose no greater health risk than conventional foods, but the US government should scrutinise more closely the safety of new biotech products, according to a report from the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
Other countries, particularly the European Union and China, are considering mandatory labels on biotech foods due to concerns about the risks they pose to the environment and to people.
The European Union, unnerved by food safety scares such as mad cow disease, has banned new biotech crops from other parts of the world for the past three years. The United States is by far the largest producer of genetically altered corn and soy-based food.
A new report by the US General Accounting Office found consumers who ate bioengineered foods were not at a higher risk of allergies or toxic reactions.
The study prepared for Congress said the US Food and Drug Administration had adequately tested the safety of new biotech foods before allowing them to be sold. However, there was room for improvement, it said.
The General Accounting Office said the FDA should validate more frequently the accuracy of safety data provided by food companies.
The FDA agreed with the study's recommendations, but said it should not be forced to validate data on a regular basis. The agency said the risk of criminal penalties for submitting false data was a significant deterrent for biotech companies.
An FDA risk assessment for a new biotech product averages between 18 months and three years, according to FDA officials.
A biotech corn variety not approved for human consumption slipped into the food supply in late 2000, sparking a nationwide recall of more than 300 kinds of corn-based foods. StarLink was approved only for animal feed due to concern that it might cause allergic reactions in humans.
Several US class action suits are pending against Aventis CropScience, which made StarLink.
A National Academy of Sciences panel in February said the government had allowed food manufacturers to market biotech crops without fully probing their potential environmental impact.
The report by Congress' investigative arm did not study the environmental risks of genetically altered food.