First you might want to read this article link
appeared in Switzerland on the 6th of September 98 in the newspaper, SonntagsZeitung! Title of piece:
"Insurance companies fear because of genetic engineering."
I chuckle to myself; anyway I think this
is important and needs more than a passing reference to a journal/pamplet whatever (esp. since it was dated
at 1996). Hazards from genetic modification - due to the interconnected genetic network
Because no gene ever functions in isolation, there will almost always be unexpected and unintended "side-effects"
from the gene or genes transferred into an organism. One major concern over transgenic foods is their potential
to be allergenic, which has become a concrete issue since a transgenic soybean containing a brazil-nut gene was found
to be allergenic. Recent studies suggest that allergenicity in plants is connected to proteins involved in defence
against pests and diseases. Thus, transgenic plants engineered for resistance to diseases and pests may have a higher
allergenic potential than the unmodified plants. Another instructive case is a transgenic yeast engineered for
increased rate of fermentation with multiple copies of one of its own genes, which resulted in the accumulation of the
metabolite, methyl glyoxal, at toxic, mutagenic levels. This should serve as a warning against applying the
"familiarity principle" in risk assessment. We simply do not have sufficient understanding of the principles of
physiological regulation to enable us to categorize, a priori, those genetic modifications that will pose a risk
and those that do not. It is a strong argument in favour of the case by case approach.
An additional problem is the introduction of proteins that have not been commonly used in foodstuffs.
An example is proteins that are not normally a part of the human diet such as proteins from viruses, bacteria
or insects or proteins with modified amino acid sequences. In these cases, there will be no one in the population
who has an identifiable allergy against such a protein. Subsequently, potential allergies may develop over the years.
As the testing of new food proteins in people would require research on large samples to uncover the small subset
who are sensitive to it, this would be impractical and prohibitively expensive. Existing food allergy databases
have to be adjusted for this problem and the necessary data have to be added onto existing files: data such as genes,
expression products, epitopes, donor and acceptor organisms, products groups and brands.
Labelling would make it easier to track food allergy symptoms. Therefore, consumers have to be informed about
the fact that they are buying or consuming a GEF, and need information about the genetic modification (see below).
On a last note:The officially appointed UK Committee on the Ethics of Genetic Modification and Food Use,
chaired by the Rev. John Polkinghorne, carried out a wide public consultation and issued a report in
September 1993 on all of the moral and ethical issues involved. This was accepted by the UK Government and
welcomed by IFST. The Committee found that the concerns were misconceptions rather than of real substance,
arising from lack of knowledge, outside the scientific community, of just what was involved. The fact is that
any gene extracted from one species for copying into another, is not itself inserted but is copied in the laboratory
and diluted millions of times before a single gene is transferred. The chance that the original gene would
be found are much less than the chance of recovering a particular drop of water from all the
oceans of the world. If this were widely understood fears of cannibalism or of contravening religious food
taboos would be seen to be unwarranted. Unfortunately, this fact does not make good media copy, whereas sensational
"cannibalism" scare stories do.
The Polkinghorne Committee's conclusions were:
Shouldn't all genetically modified foods, or those containing
genetically modified ingredients, be labelled as such, to warn consumers?
- genetic modification of food and medicines is here to stay.
It is not something to be stopped, and it would not be ethically
right or necessary that it should be;
- there is no reason for any ban on the use of copy genes of
human origin or from animals subject to dietary restrictions, but
scientists working in this field should be discouraged from using
such genes where alternatives would be equally effective;
- products containing such copy genes should be labelled to
enabled consumers to make informed choices;
- government and industry should look for ways of explaining
genetic modification to the general public.
There are two distinct kinds of genetic modification. The first
is as old as the hills, and applies to all the food we eat.
Traditional breeding methods of improvement are genetic modification
by slow, hit-and-miss means. Science now enables it to be done
systematically and more rapidly. That kind of modification
objectively needs no special label indication -- otherwise it would
have to be given on virtually all foods. Yet if the ready to eat
product still contains genes incorporated by modern methods, informed
consumer choice requires label information to that effect. In the UK
there is a voluntary agreement by manufacturers and retailers to give
such information, and a similar agreement is being developed across
the whole EU. These developments have been welcomed by IFST.
The second kind, which could not be done by traditional breeding,
is copying genes from one species to another. If some consumers wish,
for whatever reason, to avoid purchasing products of this second
kind, if the copy genes remain present in the food product, that
information should be given on the label.
This dual approach was adopted in the recommendations of the UK
Food Advisory Committee, accepted by the Government and welcomed by
IFST. It is now also the basis of EU law.