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Genomics and Biology. Biotechnology and genomics.
Assessment of the impact of GM foods on human health

Introduction of GM crops for human consumption has been fraught with controversies and conflicts of interests of various parties such as governments, corporations and research institutions and farmers and consumers. In order to balance the stakes of all the stake holders and carry out adequate risk assessment procedure, it is imperative that the first and most important assessment- impact on human health is given due consideration by policy makers around the world. It is not that the world governing bodies are not aware of the issue. In July 2003, the Codex Commission adopted the following principles, which though are not binding on national governments but are considered while carrying out the assessment:

Principles for the risk analysis of foods derived from modern biotechnology;

Guideline for the conduct of food safety assessment of foods derived from recombinant-DNA plants;

Guideline for the conduct of food safety assessment of foods produced using recombinant-DNA microorganisms.

These principles and guidelines presuppose carrying out a pre market assessment, performed on a case-by-case basis and including an evaluation of both direct effects (from the inserted gene) and unintended effects (that may arise as a consequence of insertion of the new gene). These principles and guidelines in order to assess the quality and impact of GM foods require investigation of the following points:

(a) direct health effects (toxicity);

(b) tendency to provoke allergic reactions (allergenicity);

(c) specific components thought to have nutritional or toxic properties;

(d) stability of the inserted gene;

(e) nutritional effects associated with the specific genetic modification; and

(f) any unintended effects which could result from the gene insertion.

Potential direct effects on human health

The potential direct health effects of GM foods are generally comparable to the known risks associated with conventional foods, and include, for example, the potential for causing allergy and toxicity and its impact on the nutritional quality and microbiological safety of the food. While many of these points have not been traditionally assessed for conventional food, the safety assessment of GM food follows a stepwise process aided by a series of structured questions. Factors taken into account in the safety assessment include:

Identity of gene of interest, including sequence analysis.

Source of gene of interest;

Composition of GMO;

Protein expression product of the novel DNA;

Potential toxicity;

Potential allergy cause

It is important that due consideration is given by all the policy decision makers to these areas so as to instill a sense of confidence among those who are skeptical about the use of GM crops for human consumption. This will have a positive impact on the growth of food security among nations.

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