Position Statements on Biotechnology

Royal Society of London

Website: http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk

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:

  • The use of the principle of "substantial equivalence" in the safety assessment of GM foods.
  • Possible effects of GM food on human nutrition
  • Possible effects of GM food on allergenic response.
  • Potential effects of human health resulting from the use of viral DNA in plants
  • The fate of GM plant DNA in the digestive system.

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
Chairman of the working group

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.

International Support:

  1. International Organizations
  2. Africa
  3. Asia
  4. Europe
  5. North America
  6. Latin America
  7. Oceania

International Organizations

- Food and Agricultural Organization
- Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
- World Health Organization
- United Nations Development Programme
- United Nations Environment Programme
- Third World Academy of Sciences

- Agenda 21
- Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
- Vatican Pontifical Academy on Life

- International Council for Science Union

- International Life Sciences Institute


- International Society of African Scientists
- United Nations Economic Commission for Africa
- Africabio
- South African Minister Ngubane's statement at WSSD
- National Biotechnology Strategy for South Africa
- Former Kenyan President Moi's letter to US President Clinton

- Nigerian President Obasanjo's Statement


- Asian Development Bank
- Chinese Academy of Sciences
- Indian National Academy of Sciences
- National Academy of Science and Technology (Philippines)
- Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir's Speech at BioMalaysia 2002
- Policy Statement on Biotechnology (Philippines)


- Royal Society of London

- Prime Minister Blair's speech

- European Commission

- French Academy of Science

North America


United States of America

- American Medical Association
- American Society for Microbiology
- National Academy of Sciences
- National Research Council
- American Society of Plant Biologists
- Federation of Animal Science Societies
- American Midwest Farmers

  • American Agri-Women
  • American Soybean Association
  • National Chicken Council
  • National Corn Growers Association
  • National Cotton Council
  • National Milk Producers Federation
  • National Potato Council
  • National Turkey Federation
  • United Soybean Board


- Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee
- The Royal Society of Canada (The Canadian Academy of the Sciences and Humanities)
- Industry Canada (Federal Department of Industry)
- The 1998 Canadian Biotechnology Strategy: A Ongoing Renewal Process

Latin America

- Brazilian Academy of Sciences
- Mexican Academy of Sciences


- New Zealand Royal Commission

- Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization
- Australia New Zealand Food Authority
- Australian Biotechnology: A National Strategy (2000)

- National Farmers' Federation

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