Genetically Modified Crops: Assessing Safety

By Keith T. Atherton | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

Allergenicity of foods produced by genetic modification

Dean D. Metcalfe


Introduction

Immunologically mediated adverse reactions to components normally present in foods, and generally referred to as 'food allergens', are a significant health concern for both the pediatric and the adult population at risk. It is thus necessary to develop rational approaches to prevent or limit the spread of food allergens during a time when it has become technically possible to alter the genetic composition of foods derived from both plant and animal sources. To complete the argument that genetically modified foods must be considered for allergenic potential, refer to the identification of Brazil nut allergen in transgenic soybean (Nordlee et al., 1996) or the ability of Bacillus thuringiensis pesticides to induce the production of specific IgE (Bernstein et al., 1999).

The general pathway to protection appears clear: attempt to avoid the transfer of known significant allergens into other foods, i.e. try not to create new significantly allergenic foods. But are the issues this clear, and what are the difficulties and limitations in this approach? To understand the depth and breadth of this problem, it is first necessary to examine the spectrum and prevalence of food allergies, and where reasonable evidence exists as to the etiologic agents within the foods responsible. Given this database, it then becomes possible to examine what approaches may be used to reduce risk - and the limitations of these strategies.


Definitions

It is clear that a diversity of adverse food reactions exist - some of which are on an immunologic basis and are thus referred to as 'food allergies'. Following the classification of adverse food reactions as adopted by the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (Bruijnzeel-Koomen et al., 1995), such reactions may be divided into 'toxic' and 'non-toxic' groupings. Toxic reactions are defined as those that may develop in anyone who ingests a sufficient dose. Non-toxic reactions rely on person-to-person susceptibilities. These reactions may have at their basis either immune or non-immune mechanisms. Non-toxic reactions (Table 5.1) include those referred to as allergies or hypersensitivities. Adverse reactions from non-immune mechanisms, often referred to as intolerances, may be attributed to pharmacologic properties of the food and/or unique susceptibilities in the individuals affected.

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