A White House panel is considering the creation of a scientific advisory committee to help federal agencies regulate genetically engineered products, federal officials said yesterday.
The idea is in "active discussion" among members of the White House Cabinet Council task force on biotechnology, according to Bernard Talbot, deputy director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a national conference on biotechnology.
The White House office of science and technology acknowledged yesterday that the scientific advisory committee is "being discussed," but said that no final decision has been made.
The White House task force, representing 15 federal agencies, was created in May to clarify regulatory authority and procedures affecting commercial products of biological technologies such as cell fusion, fermentation and genetic engineering.
Such products include vaccines, food additives, medical diagnostic tools and human insulin. More are approaching the market, andpossibly could strain the scientific expertise of some federal agencies, government and industry observers say.
The Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies could use a common source of scientific expertise "to assure we're all operating from the same technical base," said Sanford Miller, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
A committee of scientists could be formed "to provide advice, not regulation," in evaluating new products and processes, Miller said during a session of the Biotech '84 conference here.
Such a committee could be modeled after the National Institutes of Health's RAC, or recombinant DNA advisory committee, a panel of scientists who review some proposed experiments involving the alteration of the genetic material known as DNA.
The RAC evaluates a proposed experiment -- for example, a field test of genetically altered corn -- and advises the NIH director on whether to approve the experiment. Researchers using NIH funds must obtain NIH approval, but private companies do so on a voluntary basis.
Government and industry observers say that the NIH is not authorized or physically capable of examining all the commercial products of genetic engineering expected in the near future. But they also worry that the regulatory agencies need the RAC's scientific expertise.
The White House task force is considering the idea of an expanded RAC or "super RAC," Talbot said at the conference.
Bernadine Bulkley, deputy director of the White House office of science and technology, said the proposed committee would be an "evolved RAC" to "expand the risk assessment mechanism." The new advisory body would go beyond RAC's focus on basic science to concentrate on commercial applications, she said.