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Proc Nutr Soc. 2002 Feb;61(1):25-9.

Genetically modified foods, science, consumers and the media.

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  • 1Northern Ireland Centre for Diet and Health, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Ulster, Coleraine, UK.


In contrast to the situation in the USA, where a wide range of genetically modified (GM) foods is available, in Europe very few GM products have been approved for marketing as foods, and there is widespread public concern about their safety and environmental impact. The marketing of a GM crop for food use in Europe falls under the EC novel foods regulations, and applications require the submission of an extensive dossier of information. The safety evaluation of GM foods presents considerable problems both in the conduct and interpretation of experimental studies, because conventional toxicity tests used in the evaluation of simple chemicals may not be appropriate for whole foods. To rationalise the safety evaluation process and to circumvent the difficulties in toxicological assessment of food materials, the concept of substantial equivalence has been developed. The concept is that if it can be demonstrated that the novel food is essentially similar to its conventional counterpart in terms of critical nutritional or anutritional components, then it is likely to be no more or less toxic than the latter. The possible introduction of unintended effects by the genetic modification process is particularly problematic for the safety evaluation process. The new genomic and post-genomic techniques are potentially valuable in the safety evaluation of GM foods, although they are as yet in their infancy.

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