Position Statements on Biotechnology
Royal Society of London
UK's Royal Society Issues New Report on Biotech Crops
(Click here to download the 2002 update of the Royal Society's report.)
In 1998 the Royal Society published a report, "Genetically modified plants for food use," which concluded that GM plants had the potential to offer benefits in agricultural practice, food quality, nutrition and health, but that there were several aspects of GM technology that required further consideration. The Royal Society appointed a group of experts to update this report based on research since 1998. This update, entitled "Genetically modified plants for food use and human health - an update," was released in early February and focuses on the effects that GM foods might have on human health and the use of the principle of substantial equivalence in GM food safety testing.
The report addressed new literature in 5 key areas identified in the 1998 report:
Highlights of the report:
1) There is no reason to doubt the safety of foods made from GM ingredients that are currently available, nor to believe that genetic modification makes foods inherently less safe than their conventional counterparts. However, the report calls for the tightening of regulations for all novel foods, particularly with respect to allergy testing and the nutritional content of infant formula.
2) There is at present no evidence that GM foods cause allergic reactions. The allergenic risks posed by GM plants are in principle no greater than those posed by conventionally derived crops or by plants introduced from other areas of the world. However, the report recommends that allergy screening of all new foodstuffs, regardless of whether they contain GM ingredients, should be extended to include risks from inhalation.
3) The report
also points out that babies are particularly vulnerable to changes
in the nutritional content of their food, and recommends that UK and
EU laws should be re-examined to ensure that rigorous tests are carried
out if GM ingredients are one day considered for use in infant formula.
4) The report also recommends that the methods for comparing GM foods with their conventional counterparts, by applying the principle of 'substantial equivalence,' should be made more explicit and objective during safety assessment, and harmonized between EU Member states.
5) Having reviewed the scientific evidence, the Royal Society concluded that the use of specific viral DNA sequences in GM plants poses a negligible risk to human health.
6) Given our very long history of DNA consumption from a wide variety of sources, the Society concluded that such consumption poses no significant risk to human health, and that additional ingestion of GM DNA has no effect.
7) The Royal Society believes that scientific assessments must inform policy decisions but cannot pre-empt them, and that public opinion must be taken into account throughout. They stressed, however, the importance of informing debate with sound science.
"We have looked at all of the available research, and found nothing to suggest that the process of genetic modification makes potential foodstuffs inherently unsafe. However, we fully support the public's right to know that all new foods, regardless of whether they contain GM ingredients, are subjected to rigorous safety and nutritional checks . The rather piecemeal approach to the regulation of GM foods in the UK, and EU in general, means that there may be some gaps and inconsistencies. It is obvious that consumers want their food to be safeguarded by rules that are rigorous enough to prevent any loopholes. But the legislation must not be so restrictive that it removes any incentive for introducing new food products that are potentially beneficial to society."
Professor Jim Smith FRS
The Royal Society is the UK's independent national academy of science that promotes excellence in science, engineering and technology, both in the UK and internationally. The Society is committed to delivering the best independent advice, drawing upon the expertise of the Society's Fellows and Foreign Members and the wider scientific community.
and Agricultural Organization
Society of African Scientists
United States of America
Biotechnology Advisory Committee
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