Agenda 2002 Tuesday, February 5th: Urge for Better Safety Checks on GM Foods
Byline: JON VON RADOWITZ
BETTER safety checks must be made before new genetically modified foods are declared fit for human consumption, a group of Britain's top scientists said yesterday.
A report from the Royal Society called for tighter regulations on all novel foods, including GM - especially those covering allergy risks and the nutritional content of infant formula.
It also recommended improvements in the methods used to assess the safety of GM foods.
This is currently based on the principle of "substantial equivalence", which compares the chemical similarities of GM and non-GM food.
The Royal Society said the system should be made "more explicit and objective" and harmonised throughout the European Union.
However, the report, which reviewed GM health risk evidence to emerge over the last three years, concluded there was "no reason" to doubt the safety of foods made from genetically modified ingredients.
The Royal Society working group which produced the report said the use of DNA from viruses in the genetic engineering of plants posed a "negligible" health risk. There have been fears that cauliflower mosaic virus DNA, used as a "promoter" to enhance gene activity, might recombine with a plant's own genetic material to create new and potentially dangerous viruses.
The scientists also dismissed the alleged risks associated with eating and digesting modified plant DNA.
But the report did recommend that allergy screening of all new foods, whether or not they contain GM ingredients, should be extended to include inhaled material.
At present, tests are only carried out for material that is eaten. The scientists said there were also potential risks of allergic reactions from breathing in pollen, spores and dust - especially for those involved in growing and producing food products. …