Genetically Modified Crops: Assessing Safety

By Keith T. Atherton | Go to book overview

Preface

Man has cultivated plants for thousands of years, during which time crop plants have been continually selected for improved yield, growth, disease resistance or other useful characteristics. Plant breeding is an exceptionally successful enterprise that has fashioned the raw material of unimproved germplasm into the modern high-yielding crop and pasture varieties on which we now depend. Until recently plant breeders had to depend on empirical methods to reach their goals. However, the discovery of plant transformation is changing the way that breeders approach the challenge of creating new varieties to fulfil specific needs. Directed genetic changes provide an important new tool and allow the use of genetic information from almost any life form to be introduced into crop plants and produce desirable new characteristics.

Improvements in agronomic traits such as yield and disease resistance continue to be driving forces behind today's seed industry, but increasingly, attention is also focussed on speciality traits, including high oilseed grains, low saturated fat oilseeds and delayed ripening fruits and vegetables. Such traits command premium values in the market place. Whilst plant breeders have used conventional breeding methods coupled with techniques such as tissue culture and mutagenesis to produce new commercial lines, genetic engineering now provides a real alternative. The first generation of genetically modified (GM) crop varieties, which have been altered for agronomic traits are generally those encoded by a single gene, such as virus-, insect-, or herbicide resistance. A comprehensive list of these can be found on the Biotechnology Industry Organisation website (www.Bio.org).

A long history of producing new varieties of crop plants by conventional breeding has rarely resulted in forms that have had to be withdrawn from the market because of health concerns. Plant breeders have introduced thousands of new crop varieties that have had little, if any, effect on food safety. The concern over GM crops stems mainly from the fact that plant breeders now have access to a much wider range of genetic information from any living organism or synthetic DNA sequences. The developers of new plant varieties using genetic engineering have the responsibility of establishing that the newly introduced varieties, and the food products derived from them are as safe and nutritious as their traditional counterparts.

This book attempts to lead the reader through the main issues associated with the safety evaluation of GM crops. Chapters 1 and 2 deal with the regulatory requirements for the registration of GM crops both in the USA and in the European Community. Since there are significant limitations in the use of conventional animal toxicology studies for the safety assessment of whole foods, a new approach has had

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