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Press Release 01/23 Joint FAO/WHO

Genetically Modified Foods


Rome/Geneva, 12 April 2001 - The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have published new recommendations to strengthen the process used to protect consumers from the risk that some genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could pose for a small percentage of people with food allergies. They are available on FAO's website at the following address: and on WHO's at:

Incorporating the latest scientific information on allergens, a FAO/WHO Joint Expert Consultation on Foods Derived from Biotechnology which met in Rome from 22-25 January made recommendations that would substantially improve the decision-making process and update the allergen data base used to evaluate the risk of transferring allergens from an existing organism, or creating new ones in food made from genetically modified organisms.

The FAO/WHO Consultation proposed a more extensive methodology to evaluate the allergenicity of foods derived from sources with known allergenicity, as well as from sources with no known allergenicity. The methodology includes an initial comparison of the similarity of the protein's amino acid sequences with those of known allergens followed by, when necessary, more in-depth investigation using various other scientific testing techniques.

Allergenicity is one of the most frequently voiced concerns about the safety of food derived from biotechnology. According to Doctor Dean Metcalf, who chaired the Expert Consultation, "The FAO/WHO 2001 decision-making process developed by the Consultation will further strengthen the methods used to assure consumers that GM foods will not increase the risk of allergic reactions."

Food allergies are adverse reactions to an otherwise harmless food or food component that involves an abnormal response of the body's immune system to a specific protein, or proteins in foods. The most common type of food allergies are mediated by allergen-specific immunoglobulin E, or IgE antibodies3. These reactions are known as immediate hypersensitivity reactions because symptoms occur within minutes to a few hours after ingestion of the offending food. The spectrum of the severity of the immediate hypersensitivity reactions can range from asthmatic attacks and rarely, to fatal systemic anaphylactic shock. Such allergic reactions to foods affect a substantial percentage of the population worldwide.

Reflecting growing concern about the safety and nutritional aspects of foods derived from biotechnology, the 23rd session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission decided in July 1999 to undertake "the consideration of standards, guidelines or other recommendations for foods derived from biotechnology or traits introduced into foods by biotechnology." The same session also established an Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology for that purpose.

To assist the Intergovernmental Task Force, as well as their Member States in general, FAO and WHO is organizing a series of Joint Expert Consultations on the safety of GM foods funded by Japan. FAO/WHO consultations work to establish a consensus among scientists who participate in the consultations based on their scientific expertise. The recommendations made by the Joint Expert Consultations are presented to the Intergovernmental Task Force to help formulate a global consensus on the safety and nutritional aspects of foods derived from biotechnology.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission establishes international standards, guidelines or other recommendations known as Codex Alimentarius, through deliberations among representatives of Codex Members which includes 165 countries.


For further information contact:
John Riddle
FAO Media Relations
Telephone: 0039 06 5705 3259

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