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conceptual mapping >  community-based science and technologies  > Genetic Engineering and Omitted Health Research

The Biosafety Information Centre

Genetic Engineering and Omitted Health Research

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Some of the most crucial scientific questions concerning the health effects of genetic engineering (GE) and genetically engineered organisms (GEOs) were raised up to twenty years ago. Most of them have still not been answered at all, or have found unsatisfactory answers. We believe, as Mayer and Stirling said, “in the end it is often the case that those who choose the questions determine the answers”. Will another twenty years pass before societies realize the urgent need for public funding of genuinely independent risk- and hazard-related research? The time for such investment is now, so that a new scientific culture with working hypotheses rooted in the Precautionary Principle (PP) can discover other, possibly even more important questions of safety.

In the present paper we will mainly confine ourselves to putative health hazards related to GE plants (GEPs) used as food or feed, with some brief notes on GE vaccines as well as the novel RNAi- and nanobio-technologies. Our focus is not because we do not recognize the paramount, indirect threats to public health posed by social, cultural, ethical and economic issues, as well as the complexities posed by the relevant legal and regulatory environments, but for reasons of space.

In the specific context of food or feed safety assessment, ”hazard” may be defined as a biological, chemical or physical agent in, or condition of, food with the potential to cause an adverse health effect. The hypothetical hazards of whole GM foods, i.e. those hazards that have been realized so far, fall into a few broad categories. First, there are those either related to the random and inaccurate integration of transgenes into recipient plant genomes, uncertainty with regard to direct or indirect effects of the polypeptide product of the transgene, or uncertainty with regard to DNA types and circumstances promoting uptake and organ establishment of foreign DNA from mammalian gastro-intestinal tracts. The second are those that might come from the purposeful production of potential hazards such as allergens or powerful pharmaceutical products.

date of on-line publication : 24 October 2007

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