Food safety and quality
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Biotechnology (GM food)

Current activities
  • FAO will organize a global FAO GM Foods Platform Global Meeting entitled "Towards effective risk-based GM food safety assessment and regulatory management" in the later half of 2019.
  • The current edition of the FAO GM safety assessment tool for trainers was developed in 2006-07 (published in 2008,) thus the contents need to be updated, considering various developments around the topic. FAO has initiated the work to update the tool with several experts from various parts of the world. If you are interested in being involved in the process, or if you know anyone who might like to be involved, please contact [email protected].
  • A small country project to strengthen national capacity on biosafety is ongoing in Bhutan. The first activity was to hold a workshop entitled "Training on Genetically Modified (GM) food safety assessment, risk communication and advocacy programme in Bhutan" and the report is available here (direct PDF download is also available here).
  • A project on "Strengthening the capacity on Genetically Modified (GM) food safety assessment and communication in selected COMESA countries" has been implemented in 2016 - 2018. The final report of the project implemented in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia is available here (direct PDF download is also available here).
  • FAO GM Foods Platform team is currently updating the Country Profiles of all its member countries according to the new format which provides clear information about the countries' regulations and status with regards to GM Food safety assessment. We encourage Focal Points to contribute towards this project by logging on to the FAO GM Foods Platform and verifying their country information.
Past activities
  • The joint FAO/CBD/OECD webinar #3 on international databases on biosafety: Training on effective use of data on the databases was held on 9 December 2015. Two sessions were held to accommodate the various time zones. Speakers from Japan, Philippines and Malaysia delivered their presentations in the first session while speakers from Spain, Mexico and Canada delivered their presentations in the second session.The presentations and the report of the webinar can be found here.
  • FAO assisted the Government of Uruguay on GM food safety assessment and a workshop on the topic was held on 21-22 October 2015. The presentations of the workshop and the overview of the workshop are available.
  • seminar by Dr Andrew Bartholomaeus, the former General Manager of the risk assessment branch of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), entitled “Safety of novel food and genetically altered crops - What would science-based regulation look like? was held at headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on 13 October 2015. Dr Bartholomaeus discussed general principles of food safety regulations emphasizing the fact that the “natural” plant genome is highly plastic and “natural” crops are genetically unstable, thus sound regulatory frameworks should take this fact in considerations. The scientific consensus around the safety of new and established biotechnology-based breeding is stronger than any other scientific issues around food regulations. [read more].

  • A side event to the 38th session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, entitled "FAO GM Foods Platform: recent progress and future directions" took place in Geneva, Switzerland on 6 July 2015. The meeting was attended by 113 Codex delegates from 49 countries and FAO presented recent progress as well as the possible future directions of the Platform. Participants discussed the key factors for strengthening the Platform community to enable more interactive exchange of the relevant data and information. They also raised specific capacity development needs for FAO to consider possible provision of technical assistance. [read more]

  • A side event to the 8th session of the FAO/WHO Coordinating Committee for the Near East (CCNE), entitled FAO GM Foods Platform: benefits for the CCNE countries was held in Rome, Italy on 2 June 2015. A total of 31 delegates from Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Tunisia attended the side event. The event provided participants with an opportunity to learn not only the importance of sharing the information on the Platform but also understand the situation on the GM foods of other neighbor countries. [read more]

  • The joint FAO/CBD/OECD webinar #2 on international databases on biosafety: good practices for effective national communication mechanisms took place on 27 May 2015. The webinar was attended by 60 people from 41 countries. During the webinar, Japan, Mauritius, Iran and Mexico shared their experiences, challenges and best practices on national communication/coordination mechanisms. While participants acknowledged the importance of national communication and coordination mechanisms, they also noted that the lack of resources, awareness or technical capacity is a challenge to the establishment of such mechanisms. Perspectives were shared on public consultation procedures, communication with the media and the use social media systems. It was suggested that international organizations could facilitate cross-sectoral communication by sharing contact information of their Focal/Contact Points. [read more]

  • seminar by Nobel laureate Dr Andrew Fire, a professor of pathology and of genetics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, entitled “What is RNAi and why it is relevant to our Food? was held at headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). First, Dr Fire spoke about how RNA interference (RNAi) was discovered by explaining the observation results of several experiments and the meanings of those phenomena. Then, he specifically discussed possible strategies relying on RNAi to replace fumigants to combat nematodes in agriculture. [read more]

  • The joint FAO/CBD/OECD webinar #1 on the international databases on Biosafety took place on 12 November 2014. The webinar was attended by 120 people from 55 countries. The organizers (FAO/CBD/OECD) provided an overview on the scope and content of three different databases on biosafety. The webinar provided an informal but effective forum for users and contributors of all three databases to have a common understanding of the respective scopes, purposes and contents of the databases. The webinar also provided useful information from the side of the users in order to further improve the practical and operational aspects of the database management. It was confirmed that achieving synergies among the databases can be successful only if the agencies/authorities at the national level coordinate their work and activities on this topic. A formal mechanism such as a national biosafety authority can be useful to facilitate intersectoral dialogue among the various agencies/departments and stakeholders. Participants suggested that more webinars to be jointly organized by FAO, UNEP-CBD and OECD on the topic. [read more]

  • FAO Technical Consultation on Low Levels of GM crops in international food and feed trade (20-21 March 2014): Several countries have requested FAO to facilitate international dialogue on the issue of trade disruptions involving low levels of GM crops in international food and feed trade. Such an initial dialogue would review the extent and pattern of trade disruptions based on reporting from member countries and would explore likely trends. The Technical Consultation aims at facilitating a common understanding of the issue. The meeting is not intended to reach policy agreements. [read more]

  • FAO GM Foods Platform (2013): The FAO GM Foods Platform was 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) ". The Platform facilitates the effective utilization of food safety assessment in situations of Low Level Presence (LLP) of r-DNA plant materials in food. The final report of the launching event (side event to the 36th Codex Alimentarius Commission) is available in English here. [visit the Platform]
General information

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

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 ]