The application of modern biotechnology to food and food production (GM food) presents new opportunities and potential benefits, as well as challenges in ensuring consumer protection. Recent developments have posed concerns, both real and perceived, about the safety of these technologies.
Member Countries, especially developing ones, look to FAO to provide sound and unbiased advice on the safety of GM food, and AGNS, in collaboration with international bodies such as Codex, has been involved in a wide range of biotechnology related issues, including:
Science-based safety evaluation and risk assessment systems to objectively determine the benefits and risks of GM food
Recommendations for the labelling of foods obtained through biotechnology
Assessing nutritional aspects of food derived from modern biotechnology
Detection of protein and/or DNA in GM food
In 1999 the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), established an Ad hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology to consider the health and nutritional implications of such food. It is tasked with developing standards, guidelines or recommendations, as appropriate, for foods derived from biotechnology or traits introduced into foods by biotechnology. The Task Force was dissolved by the 31st Session of the Commission (2008).
The scientific basis for the work of Task Force was provided by FAO and WHO through a series of scientific expert consultations on the safety and nutritional aspects of GM food. These expert consultations, while addressing issues which are closely related to the work of the Task Force, were completely independent from the inter-governmental negotiation process, and treated the subject from a purely scientific perspective.
FAO/WHO Expert Consultations
FAO and WHO have embarked on an initiative to organize a series of scientific expert Consultations to provide scientific and technical advice to their Member States. The scientific advice derived from the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultations can be used by the Member States of FAO and WHO directly. It also serves as the scientific foundation for the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission in their deliberation on risk analysis principles and safety assessment guidelines for foods derived from biotechnology.
FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant-DNA Animals, 26 February - 2 March 2007, Geneva [full report: EN | SP | FR ]
Safety assessment of foods derived from genetically modified animals, including fish, a joint FAO/WHO expert consultation on food derived from biotechnology, Rome, Italy, 17 - 21 November 2003 [ exective summary (EN) | full report (EN) ]
Safety assessment of foods derived from genetically modified microorganisms, a joint FAO/WHO expert consultation on foods derived from biotechnology, Geneva, Switzerland, 24 to 28 September 2001 [ full report (EN)]
Allergenicity of genetically modified foods, a joint FAO/WHO consultation on foods derived from biotechnology, Rome, Italy, 22-25 January 2001 [ full report (EN) ]
Safety aspects of genetically modified foods of plant origin, a joint FAO/WHO consultation on foods derived from biotechnology, Geneva, Switzerland 29 May - 2 June 2000 [full report: EN | SP | FR ]
FAO GM Foods Platform (2013): A new international Platform has been developed to share information on safety assessment of foods derived from recombinant-DNA plants authorized in accordance with the Codex Plant Guideline, entitled “Guideline for the conduct of food safety assessment of foods derived from recombinant-DNA plants (CAC/GL 45-2003, annex III adopted in 2008) ". This Platform also facilitates the effective utilization of food safety assessment in situations of Low Level Presence (LLP) of r-DNA plant materials in food. Please note that FAO GM Foods Platform has been officially launched in July 2013 and accessible at http://fao.org/gm-platform. The database will gradually expand as Member countries upload their information over the coming weeks and months. The final report of the launching event (side event to the 36th Codex Alimentarius Commission) is available in English [ download ].
FAO Technical Analysis Paper development (2013): Low level presence (LLP) and adventitious presence (AP) of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in internationally traded crops is of growing concern to national authorities in a number of countries and to a number of private sector bodies. National policies and regulations that govern the acceptability of genetically modified (GM) crops vary. The land area under GM cultivation has grown steadily over the last two decades and many of the GM crops are important in international trade (including maize, canola, soybean). Furthermore, available information suggests that there are a number of new GM crops under development and that a growing number of countries are involved in developing these crops. Current systems of production, handling and transport lead to unintentional low level presence of GMOs in “non- GMO” consignments. A number of trade-related problems have been reported due to such unintentional mixing.
In light of the above, FAO is carrying out a study to better understand the extent of trade-disruption due to LLP and AP. The study is being done in order to:
determine the extent of the impact of LLP in internationally traded commodities or trade flows, on food and feed availability, food security and to determine which commodities and which countries are most affected;
determine how the impact of LLP/ AP in internationally traded commodities is likely to evolve over the next 5-10 years and how this impact will affect food security and economic development; and
investigate how selected regulatory scenarios could affect the movement of commodities with LLP or AP of GMO.
International Conference on low level presence of GM crops in internationally traded crops (2013-14): Once the above-mentioned technical paper has been finalized, FAO proposes to organize an international conference to discuss the results and findings from the study in order to achieve international agreement on key issues to be addressed. The conference will be useful to identify various options and ways to address the key issues, as well as to identify information and data gaps to fill. FAO international conference offers its members a neutral and transparent forum to discuss various issues around the topic. FAO welcomes relevant national data/information as well as suggestions and comments. They should be sent to: GM-Platform@fao.org. [posted on 5 July 2013]