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Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects
overall decision-making, providing alternative routes that can and should be taken according to the specific GM target. Further, the flow chart illustrates the need for appropriate tools to assess and utilize both pre- and postmarket approaches in the process of identifying unintended compositional changes and potential unintended adverse health effects. This model system for selecting and validating methods to detect and assess compositional changes in food serves as the basis for the committee’s recommendations to overcome limitations to current methods used to identify compositional differences and evaluate the health significance of new or altered compounds in GM foods.
Overall Findings and Recommendation
All new crop varieties, animal breeds (see the cloning subreport), and microbial strains carry modified DNA that differs from parental strains. Methods to genetically modify plants, animals, and microbes are mechanistically diverse and include both natural and human-mediated activities. Health outcomes could be associated with the presence or absence of specific substances added or deleted using genetic modification techniques, including genetic engineering, and with unintended compositional changes.
The likelihood that an unintended compositional change will occur can be placed on a continuum that is based on the method of genetic modification used (see Figure ES-1). The genetic modification method used, however, should not be the sole criterion for suspecting and subsequently evaluating possible health effects associated with unintended compositional changes.
All evidence evaluated to date indicates that unexpected and unintended compositional changes arise with all forms of genetic modification, including genetic engineering. Whether such compositional changes result in unintended health effects is dependent upon the nature of the substances altered and the biological consequences of the compounds. To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.
The committee recommends that compositional changes that result from all genetic modification in food, including genetic engineering, undergo an appropriate safety assessment. The extent of an appropriate safety assessment should be determined prior to commercialization. It should be based on the presence of novel compounds or substantial changes in the levels of naturally occurring substances, such as nutrients that are above or below the normal range for that species (see Chapter 3), taking into account the organism modified and the nature of the introduced trait.