UN agencies suggest ways to prevent health risks of genetically modified foods

UN agencies suggest ways to prevent health risks of genetically modified foods

Confronting complex issues stemming from biotechnology, two United Nations agencies today issued new recommendations to help protect consumers from risks that some genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could pose for certain people who suffer from food allergies.

The recommendations were issued jointly by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO), which brought together experts to review the latest scientific information on allergens and foods derived from biotechnology.

The aim of their recommendations is to prevent the use of foods that commonly provoke allergies -- which can in some cases be serious and even fatal -- in bio-engineered foods. Offering an example, an FAO official explained that Brazil nuts would not be used in a GMO because it is well-known that many people are allergic to them. Other types of foods would be tested extensively.

While foods currently go through tests before being placed on the market, the new recommendations go much further in protecting consumers from possible risks, FAO Senior Officer Ezzeddine Boutris told the UN News Service. "The decision tree that used to be followed in the past was not as comprehensive as the one developed by the expert consultation."

The current decision-making process does not cover all aspects of allergy testing, Mr. Boutris said, adding that the new recommendations call for more analytic examinations to "reflect all possible considerations and situations regarding whether the food or the gene in question comes from foods known to be allergenic."

Commenting on the prevailing concerns about GMOs, Mr. Boutris said, "Like anything new, there is always a fear that something we don't know about will come up in the future, and that uncertainty aspect about GMOs is one of the most critical issues." He observed that the joint FAO-WHO work, which is part of their four-year effort to develop international guidelines on the production of GMOs, would help address these concerns.