Genetically modified foods should be tested for potential health effects both before and after the products become available to consumers, says a report published in July by the National Academy of Sciences.
Although no such health effects have been reported yet—and genetically engineered canola oil, corn and soy are widely present in the global food supply—concerns remain about their potential.
?All evidence to date indicates that any breeding technique that alters a plant or animal—whether by genetic engineering or other methods—has the potential to create unintended changes in the quality or amounts of food components that could harm health,? said Bettie Sue Masters, chair of the NAS research committee and a distinguished professor in chemistry at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. The panel defined genetic engineering as a subset of the many methods of genetically modifying plants or animals, including traditional crossbreeding.
The panel also concluded, however, that ?targeted? genetic modification, which includes the most common type of genetic engineering—transfer of recombinant DNA between closely related species in an agrobacterium medium—is no more likely than what it calls traditional GM techniques, such as crossbreeding or simple selection, to result in unintended effects. When other recombinant techniques are used, or the species are distantly related, the risk of unintended effects increases.
?We are saying that ? there should be no more alarm about GE food than there has been previously,? Masters said.
Despite technology that is able to detect chemical and genetic changes in foods, the scientific community is still limited in its ability to understand what adverse health effects such changes might carry, the report said. Because of this limitation, it?s important that GM foods also be tracked in the post-marketing phase, using bar code technology, labeling, consumer trend surveys and other methods, the committee said.
Masters emphasized, however, that this was not an implicit endorsement of the need for labeling GM foods. ?That?s another spin,? she said. ?We?re saying that if something is showing even a beneficial effect ? one might want to post-market track that.? She added, ?Labeling is quite another issue. I think there could be studies done, and you could argue as a citizen that if you were?some might use the word guinea pig?and looking at something that could have a potential effect you would want to know that, but that?s up to the agencies to determine.?
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 9/p. 1