GM foods 'as safe as plant-derived,' finds EU group

Related tags Gm Genetically modified organism

Brussels addresses the issue of consumer cynicism and fear of
agricultural biotechnology in European citizens, setting up a
thematic network on the safety risk assessment of genetically
modified food crops, the Entransfood project, in order to stimulate
the debate.

A reflection of consumer's poor regard for GM foodstuffs, in total Europe has planted about 58,000 hectares of GM maize in Spain, lagging far behind the US, Canada and Argentina that have planted millions of hectares of GM crops.

Funded under the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), Entransfood sought to identify prerequisites for introducing agricultural biotechnology products in a way that is largely acceptable to European society.

"It is important to explicitly address public concerns and to develop new methods for stakeholders' involvement and public consultation,"​ states the project consortium, consisting of 65 partners from 13 different European countries, including representatives from academia, regulatory agencies, food manufacturers, retailers and consumer groups.

According to CORDIS, the project has already evaluated issues of the safety of GM crop derived foods and paid attention to issues like detection and traceability and public attitude towards GM food crops.

"Risk assessment of GM foods has focused on adverse health effects for humans and the environment, but public concern is much broader, focusing not only on risks, but also on who benefits, what are the needs and how does it contribute to a sustainable agriculture,"​ adds the consortia.

CORDIS​ reports that the project found existing test methods for safety assessment of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) 'are efficient and ensure that GM foods that have passed the test are as safe and nutritious as plant-derived foods.'

The EU-funded project has recommended however, that in the future: 'based on our improved understanding of molecular biology, toxicology and nutrition, further improvement of test methods may be considered that will render the safety assessment of foods even more effective and informative.'

In addition, the group proposed the development of novel methods to predict the allergenicity of food components.

The project noted that process-based labelling of all foods containing GM crops is a necessity in order to dispel the fears of EU citizens, but recognised that difficulties are unavoidable in implementing the EU's labelling requirements.

They quote the example that it will be a challenge to achieve international agreement on standards for the labelling and traceability of foods originating from or containing GM crops across countries and even businesses.

On the subject of detection of 'unintended effects and gene transfer,' CORDIS writes that Entransfood​ emphasised there is no indication that 'unintended effects are more likely to occur in GM foods or that there is any inherent risk in the transfer of DNA between organisms, since DNA is not toxic.'

It did, however, call for further development and validation of profiling methods before they are used in routine risk assessment. The project also recommends that the use of bacterial DNA in elaborating GM plants should be kept to a minimum in order to reduce the risk of gene transfer to the microbial population in the gut.

Finally, the EU group recommended the creation of an evaluation and discussion platform combining a range of diverse perspectives on new food technology to formalise public engagement and consultation in the GM debate.

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