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2. Background

In 1990 and 1996 FAO and WHO organised joint expert consultations to consider the safety and nutritional aspects of genetically modified foods. The 1990 Consultation regarded biotechnology as a continuum, embracing traditional breeding techniques and modern techniques based on recombinant DNA technologies and concluded that foods from modern biotechnology were inherently not less safe than those from traditional biotechnology (WHO, 1991). The 1996 Consultation recommended that substantial equivalence be an important component in the safety assessment of foods and food ingredients derived from genetically modified plants intended for human consumption (FAO, 1996). The Codex Alimentarius Commission and its relevant subsidiary bodies had reflected the results of the both consultations.

Recognizing the rising concern among the world population about the safety and nutritional aspects of foods derived from biotechnology, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, at its 23rd Session in 1999, decided to establish an Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology to develop standards, guidelines or recommendations, as appropriate, for foods derived from biotechnology or traits introduced into foods by biotechnology. The first meeting of the Task Force was held in Japan in March 2000. FAO and WHO expressed their intention to organize a series of scientific expert consultations to support the work of the Task Force.

In June 2000, a Joint FAO/WHO Consultation on Foods Derived from Biotechnology was held in Geneva (WHO, 2000). It addressed the overall safety aspects of foods derived from genetically modified plants and focused on the applicability of substantial equivalence as a general guidance for scientific risk assessment. This Consultation identified specific areas on which further expert consultation was needed and recommended that FAO/WHO should convene an expert consultation on the assessment of allergenicity of genetically modified foods and the novel proteins contained therein as a matter of priority.

The 2000 Consultation adapted a decision-tree (Annex 3) for the evaluation of allergenicity of novel proteins introduced into genetically modified foods. It agreed that the reliability of the risk assessment procedures for allergenicity of genetically modified foods using the decision-tree approach should be further enhanced, including the consideration of additional criteria.

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