Friday, August 04, 2006

Dangers in Genetically Engineered/ Modified Food

Dangers in Genetically Engineered/ Modified Food

Government agencies should evaluate the safety of new food crops based on what they contain rather how they were created, according to a report released yesterday by the National Academy of Sciences. Foods designed to have novel compounds or altered levels of natural substances require a special attention for unintended health effects, the committee concluded.

The panel, chaired by Bettie Sue Masters of the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, distinguished between crops that are genetically engineered (GE) — having a gene deleted or transferred between species — and those that are genetically modified by other methods. It noted that no harm to humans has been found from GE crops, but concluded that transferring genes does raise the risk of surprise effects. However, the panel noted, techniques other than gene-splicing, such as mutagenesis from radiation or chemicals, have a higher risk of creating genetic surprises. Even crops whose genes are modified and shuffled by conventional breeding can turn out to have harmful effects, such as heightened levels of naturally occurring toxic compounds.

Agencies should take a broader look at all new foods, the panel recommends. If a product contains an unknown substance, or if levels of known compounds are significantly different than those in current products, then a detailed safety analysis should be conducted. In order to know the normal range of food compositions, federal agencies need to build a comprehensive database of several hundred compounds in crops grown in a range of environmental conditions. To that end, companies should make public compositional information that's currently held as confidential business information, the committee recommended.

In some cases, such as foods with improved nutrition, monitoring should continue after the product is on the market to make sure the products are in fact safe. To make that possible, the committee recommends, agencies need to find ways to track foods and consumer habits. The study was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In an addendum to the report, the committee reported it could find no evidence that food from cloned animals was any more risky than food from other animals.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) in Washington, D.C., lauded the report as affirming the safety of biotech crops, but Gregory Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says the recommendations don't go far enough. "The obvious conclusion is that there should be a mandatory approval process by FDA prior to commercialization" of GE foods, he says. Health Source: 0223,2005 Nursing/Academic Edition