Report on human health effects of genetically engineered food

Alan McHughen, a University of California, Riverside, biotechnologist and geneticist in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences is a member of a committee that issued a report today recommending how agencies should regulate genetically engineered foods to avoid unintended human health problems.

The report, titled Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects was released by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies’ National Research Council.

The report offers the federal government a guide for determining which genetically engineered foods require more extensive safety evaluations. The report also compares the potential health risks of genetically engineered foods with foods modified in other ways.

Some of McHughen’s observations arising from his involvement in the drafting of the report include the following:

  • For Perhaps the first time, the risks of genetically engineering were directly compared to the risks of other forms of genetic alteration used in making foods.
  • Adverse health effects from genetic engineering have not been documented in the human population.
  • Genetic engineering is not an inherently hazardous process.
  • Attempts to assess food safety based solely on the method of breeding are “scientifically unjustified.” Genetic engineering should not be the trigger for regulatory oversight.
  • A new genetically modified food whose composition is very similar to a commonly used conventional version may warrant little or no additional safety evaluation.

McHughen is the author of Pandora’s Picnic Basket: The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods, published in 2000 by Oxford University Press. A molecular geneticist, public sector educator, scientist and consumer advocate, McHughen has helped develop U.S. and Canadian regulations covering the environmental release of plants with novel traits. He also served on recent National Academy of Science and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development panels investigating the environmental and health effects of genetically modified organisms.

As an educator and consumer advocate, he helps non-scientists understand the environmental and health impacts of both modern and traditional methods of food production. His award winning book, Pandora's Picnic Basket: The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods, uses clear, consumer-friendly language to explode the myths and explore the genuine risks of GM technology.

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