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Report Urges Scrutiny of Genetically Altered Foods

August 2, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 31

The safety of genetically altered foods should be looked at more carefully to determine whether they pose health risks, says a report from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine. Genetically altered crops include those modified by conventional breeding; genetic engineering; or a variety of other techniques, such as treatment with chemicals or radiation to induce random mutations. Thus, the report notes, more testing should be done on all foods containing new compounds or unusual amounts of naturally occurring substances--not just because of the method used to make a new crop. "All evidence to date indicates that any breeding technique that alters a plant or animal--whether by genetic engineering or other techniques--has the potential to create unintended changes in the quality or amounts of food components that could harm health," says Bettie Sue S. Masters, professor of biochemistry at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. The committee notes that documented adverse health effects from transgenic food have not been observed in humans, even though such foods have the potential to create toxins or allergens. Still, evaluation of some foods should continue after the products are on the market, especially those with new substances or altered nutrients.


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