JOURNAL ARTICLE

Assuring the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods: the importance of an holistic, integrative approach

Andrew Cockburn
Journal of Biotechnology 2002 September 11, 98 (1): 79-106
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Genes change continuously by natural mutation and recombination enabling man to select and breed crops having the most desirable traits such as yield or flavour. Genetic modification (GM) is a recent development which allows specific genes to be identified, isolated, copied and inserted into other plants with a high level of specificity. The food safety considerations for GM crops are basically the same as those arising from conventionally bred crops, very few of which have been subject to any testing yet are generally regarded as being safe to eat. In contrast a rigorous safety testing paradigm has been developed for GM crops, which utilises a systematic, stepwise and holistic approach. The resultant science based process, focuses on a classical evaluation of the toxic potential of the introduced novel trait and the wholesomeness of the transformed crop. In addition, detailed consideration is given to the history and safe use of the parent crop as well as that of the gene donor. The overall safety evaluation is conducted under the concept known as substantial equivalence which is enshrined in all international crop biotechnology guidelines. This provides the framework for a comparative approach to identify the similarities and differences between the GM product and its comparator which has a known history of safe use. By building a detailed profile on each step in the transformation process, from parent to new crop, and by thoroughly evaluating the significance from a safety perspective, of any differences that may be detected, a very comprehensive matrix of information is constructed which enables the conclusion as to whether the GM crop, derived food or feed is as safe as its traditional counterpart. Using this approach in the evaluation of more than 50 GM crops which have been approved worldwide, the conclusion has been that foods and feeds derived from genetically modified crops are as safe and nutritious as those derived from traditional crops. The lack of any adverse effects resulting from the production and consumption of GM crops grown on more than 300 million cumulative acres over the last 5 years supports these safety conclusions.

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