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Genomics and Biology. Biotechnology and genomics.
Risk Assessment of GM Foods for human health and environment

While introduction of GM crops to solve the world food problem has come as a blessing in disguise for a number of countries grappling with food crisis, the experience so far has not been completely away from controversy. A large number of countries are facing opposition from various quarters to the introduction to GM seeds and crops in their farmland. The issues involved include cultural, socio and economic and misgivings are also not unfounded in a number of cases. Thus it becomes imperative for countries and governments to carry out an adequate risk assessment exercise to avoid controversy surroundings introduction of the new variety of crops. The risk assessment program should incorporate all the elements which have a bearing on the introduction of any new non organic crop variety for use.

History of risk assessment of GMOs:
When new foods (crop varieties, animal breeds or microorganisms) are developed by traditional breeding methods, they are usually not subject to specific pre market or post market risk or safety assessment by national authorities or through international standards. This is in contrast to requirements introduced for GMOs and GM foods. The concept of risk assessment of GMOs was first discussed in 1975. At that time, the discovery of recombinant DNA had raised concerns among researchers regarding the potential creation of recombinant viruses whose escape would threaten public health and cause havoc with environment. Fourteen months after a voluntary moratorium on research involving recombinant DNA techniques, guidelines for the physical and biological containment of riskier experiments were drafted and agreed by countries involved in the process.

Early regulatory requirements were intended to prevent the accidental release of microorganisms from research facilities. The guidelines framed subsequently touched upon pre market human-health and environmental-safety assessment requirement for all GMOs and GM foods. Many countries have since established specific pre market regulatory systems requiring the rigorous assessment of GMOs and GM foods before their release into the environment and/or use in the food supply. This is intended to provide for adequate protection in this regard.

To provide international consistency in risk analysis of GMOs and GM foods, a number of international regulatory and standard-setting bodies have introduced uniform standards. These include standards for human-health and environmental-safety assessment of GMOs and GM foods etc. The objective of uniform global standards for risk assessment would be challenging as countries are bound to reach different decisions on the scope of the assessment, particularly the resolution of whether or not to include social or economic aspects.

The issues involved are complex and varied and interests of parties involved are often conflicting. The challenge therefore countries and governments and think tank is to devise a set of standards and policies which balance the interests of various stake holders and are perceived to be fair and equitable.

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