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Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects
Genetically modified foods and food products derived from genetically engineered organisms are among a number of biotechnological developments intended to improve shelf life, nutritional content, flavor, color, and texture, as well as agronomic and processing characteristics. Although in popular parlance the term genetically modified often is used interchangeably with genetically engineered, in this report genetic modification refers to a range of methods used to alter the genetic composition of a plant or animal, including traditional hybridization and breeding. Genetic engineering is one type of genetic modification that involves the intention to introduce a targeted change in a plant, animal or microbial gene sequence to effect a specific result.
While there are a variety of methods for identifying and measuring specific changes that result from genetic engineering, as well as from conventional breeding techniques, such changes are not always easily discernible—particularly when they are unexpected outcomes of the process or when they result from latent expression of the genetic change or accumulated changes in functional effects in the modified organism.
The addition of genetic engineering to the repertoire of methods to genetically modify organisms has increased the number and type of substances that can be intentionally introduced into the food supply, as well as the magnitude of these changes. While these intended changes can be readily evaluated for their safety in food, unintentionally introduced changes in the composition of foods may be more difficult to identify and assess. Whether genetic engineering per se affects the likelihood of unintentionally introducing undesired compositional changes in food is not fully understood. In contrast to adverse health effects that have been associated with some traditional food production methods, similar serious health