Modified Foods Should be Judged Case-by-Case, Scientists Say

July 30, 2004

Brussels, 29 Jul 2004

Foods that have been significantly modified by genetic engineering or any other method should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis before being made available commercially, according to a new report commissioned by the three U.S. government bodies that regulate agricultural biotechnology.

"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, who led the group of experts who wrote the report.

The report was released July by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, which advise the U.S. government on science, engineering and medicine. The report was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The scientists were asked to examine the potential health effects of genetically modified foods compared to foods altered by other methods. The group also studied differences between foods derived from cloned and non-cloned animals, according to a National Academies press release.

Genetic engineering "is not an inherently hazardous process" and food safety assessments "based solely on the method of breeding are 'scientifically unjustified,'" the report concluded.

The report is "enabling, not prescriptive," providing a "framework" for a science-based assessment system, said Masters at a public forum.

In some cases, she said, evaluation should continue after a product is on the market, especially if it contains a new substance or an unusual nutrient profile.

Copies of Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects are available from the National Academies Press at http:///www.nap.edu

Text of the press release:

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