Modern food biotechnology, human health and development: an

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Modern food biotechnology, human health and development: an  - page 1
Modern food biotechnology, human health and development: an evidence-based study FOOD SAFETY DEPARTMENT* WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION *as of 1 June 2005, Department of Food Safety, Zoonoses and Foodborne Diseases
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WHO Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data Modern food biotechnology, human health and development: an evidence-based study. 1. Food, Genetically modified; 2. Food production; 3. Biotechnology; 4. Public health; 5. Risk assessment; 6. Review literature; I. World Health Organization ISBN 92 4 159305 9 (NLM classification: WA 695) © World Health Organization 2005 All rights reserved. Publications of the World Health Organization can be obtained from WHO Press, World Health Organization, 20 Avenue Appia, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland (tel.: +41 22 791 2476; fax: +41 22 791 4857; email: [email protected]). Requests for permission to reproduce or translate WHO publications – whether for sale or for non-commercial distribution – should be addressed to WHO Press, at the above address (fax: +41 22 791 4806; email: [email protected]). The designations employed and the presentation of the material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the World Health Organization concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. Dotted lines on maps represent approximate border lines for which there may not yet be full agreement. The mention of specific companies or of certain manufacturers’ products does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by the World Health Organization in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned. Errors and omissions excepted, the names of proprietary products are distinguished by initial capital letters. All reasonable precautions have been taken by WHO to verify the information contained in this publication. However, the published material is being distributed without warranty of any kind, either express or implied. The responsibility for the interpretation and use of the material lies with the reader. In no event shall the World Health Organization be liable for damages arising from its use. Printed in Switzerland. For further information: Food Safety Department World Health Organization 20, Avenue Appia CH-1211 Geneva 27 Switzerland Fax: +41 22 791 4807 Email: [email protected] Internet site: http://www.who.int/foodsafety WHO wishes to express its appreciation to all those who contributed to the preparation of this report by providing time, data and other relevant information, and by reviewing and commenting on the document. The assistance of Dr Alexander Haslberger and Ms Kelebohile Lekoape in preparing the report was particularly appreciated. Those who participated in the background group of experts are listed in Annex 1. as of 1 June 2005, Department of Food Safety, Zoonoses and Foodborne Diseases
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CONTENTS ACRONYMS AND ABBREVIATIONS...................................................................................................... ii EXECUTIVE SUMMARY .......................................................................................................................... iii 1. Introduction ............................................................................................................................................ 1 1.1 Goals and terms of reference .................................................................................................................. 1 1.2 Methodology .......................................................................................................................................... 1 1.3 Modern food biotechnology: definition and overview of potential benefits and risks........................... 1 1.4 Recent international controversies and study initiative .......................................................................... 2 2. Current use, research and impending development of foods produced through modern biotechnology ............................................................................................................................................... 3 2.1 Crops ...................................................................................................................................................... 3 2.2 Livestock and fish................................................................................................................................... 8 2.3 Microorganisms...................................................................................................................................... 9 2.4 Conclusions .......................................................................................................................................... 10 3. Risk of GMOs and GM foods to human health and the environment............................................. 11 3.1 History of risk assessment of GMOs.................................................................................................... 11 3.2 Assessment of the impact of GM foods on human health .................................................................... 12 3.3 GMOs and environmental safety.......................................................................................................... 19 3.4 Regional specificity in safety assessments ........................................................................................... 22 3.5 Monitoring of human health and environmental safety........................................................................ 23 3.6 Conclusions .......................................................................................................................................... 24 4. Developing regulatory and safety systems for modern food biotechnology: a role for capacity building....................................................................................................................................................... 25 4.1 Defining capacity building ................................................................................................................... 25 4.2 Background .......................................................................................................................................... 25 4.3 Capacity needs...................................................................................................................................... 26 4.4 Harmonization ...................................................................................................................................... 31 4.5 Conclusions .......................................................................................................................................... 32 5. GM food and food security .................................................................................................................. 33 5.1 What is food security? .......................................................................................................................... 33 5.2 The challenges to food security ............................................................................................................ 33 5.3 Attaining food security ......................................................................................................................... 35 5.4 A potential role for modern biotechnology .......................................................................................... 37 5.5 Research ownership.............................................................................................................................. 40 5.6 Globalization ........................................................................................................................................ 45 5.7 Market access ....................................................................................................................................... 46 5.8 Conclusions .......................................................................................................................................... 47 6. Social and ethical concerns about GM foods ..................................................................................... 49 6.1 Cultural variability and public perception ............................................................................................ 49 6.2 Labelling of GM foods and consumer choice ...................................................................................... 49 6.3 Coexistence of different agricultural practices ..................................................................................... 53 6.4 Economic cost of adopting GM crops .................................................................................................. 53 6.5 Socioeconomic aspects in the use of GMOs ........................................................................................ 54 6.6 Ethics in the development and use of GMOs, equity and shaping of markets ..................................... 56 6.7 Research and development, societal objectives and a role for WHO................................................... 58 6.8 Conclusions .......................................................................................................................................... 59 Annex 1 Members of the background group of experts ............................................................................. 60 Annex 2 REFERENCES ............................................................................................................................ 63 i
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ACRONYMS AND ABBREVIATIONS Bt CBD CPB DNA ERA EU FAO GEF GM GMM GMO IPR MLS NGO OECD PVP R&D SPS Agreement TRIPS UNCED UNDP UNEP WHO WTO Bacillus thuringiensis Convention on Biological Diversity Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety deoxyribonucleic acid environmental risk assessment European Union Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Global Environment Facility genetically modified genetically modified microorganism genetically modified organism intellectual property right multilateral system of facilitated access and benefit-sharing nongovernmental organization Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development plant variety protection research and development Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights United Nations Conference on Environment and Development United Nations Development Programme United Nations Environment Programme World Health Organization World Trade Organization ii
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY This study was commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) to establish a knowledge base for evaluating the application of modern biotechnology in food production. The study does not seek to address all issues and evidence in detail, but rather aims to place in context the overall impact of this technology on human health and development. The study reviews evidence in several broad areas related to the use of genetically modified (GM) organisms in the food supply (GM foods), including a review of GM food products currently available, the assessment of risks and benefits, the broader impact on societies, and the existing regulatory capacity in countries. The evidence was collected and collated by WHO with the support of a background group of external experts (list of experts - annex 1). Data for the study were gathered through traditional methodology as well as through an open questionnaire and an Internet-based electronic discussion process. Preliminary results were discussed at a broad stakeholder meeting held in 2003 (list of participants - annex 1), informing further data search and revision. The first GM food (delayed-ripening tomato) was introduced on the US market in the mid-1990s. Since then, GM strains of maize, soybean, rape and cotton have been adopted by a number of countries and marketed internationally. In addition, GM varieties of papaya, potato, rice, squash and sugar beet have been trialed or released. It is estimated that GM crops cover almost 4% of total global arable land. The development of GM organisms (GMOs) offers the potential for increased agricultural productivity or improved nutritional value that can contribute directly to enhancing human health and development. From a health perspective, there may also be indirect benefits, such as reduced agricultural chemical usage and enhanced farm income, and improved crop sustainability and food security, particularly in developing countries. Contradictory findings for such benefits sometimes reflect different regional or agricultural conditions. The use of GMOs may also involve potential risks for human health and development. Many genes used in GMOs have not been in the food supply before. While new types of conventional food crops are not usually subject to safety assessment before marketing, assessments of GM foods were undertaken before the first crops were commercialized. To provide international consistency in the assessment of GM foods, principles developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (a joint programme of WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; FAO) now cover food safety, while the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety covers environmental safety of GMOs. Many countries have established specific premarket regulatory systems in accordance with this international guidance that require a case-by-case risk assessment of each GM food. Risk assessment methodology undergoes continuous improvements, a fact that is recognized by the Codex principles, including the need for risk assessments to consider both the intended and unintended effects of such foods in the food supply. GM foods currently traded on the international market have passed risk assessments in several countries and are not likely, nor have been shown, to present risks for human health. Although risk-assessment systems have been in use for some time, the perception of GM food among consumers has not always recognized these assessments. One explanation is that many national food- safety systems have had problems performing good risk communication in this area. In many countries, social and ethical considerations may cause also resistance to modifications which interfere with genes. These conflicts often reflect deeper issues related to the interaction of human society with nature — issues that should be taken seriously in any communication effort. However, while in many regions, food is clearly considered part of historical identity and societal life, scepticism towards GM food is not necessarily linked to traditionalism or to absence of knowledge about this new technology. Investigations of public perception indicate that the sceptical consumer will acknowledge arguments both for and against GM food and, in general, does not demand ‘zero risk’. Likewise, it has been seen that critical attitudes towards GM food are not necessarily linked to a negative attitude towards the use iii
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of biotechnology as such, as demonstrated by a generally positive attitude towards the use of biotechnology in modern medicine. The issue of benefit to society therefore seems to constitute an important aspect related to acceptance of new technology. Intellectual property rights are an important part of the GM food debate. Problems of assuring equal access to genetic resources, sharing benefits on a global level, and avoiding monopolization exist for GM food as for other uses of gene technology. Related to this are concerns about a growing influence of the chemical industry in seed markets. Sustainable agriculture and biodiversity are likely to benefit most when a rich variety of crops are planted, and a potential exclusive use of certain chemical- resistant GM crops could be seen to create dependency. Conflicting assessments and incomplete substantiation of the benefits, risks and limitations of GM food have added to existing controversies. During a famine situation in southern Africa in 2002, the reluctance among several recipient countries to receive GM food aid was not primarily linked to health or environment issues, but to socioeconomic, ownership and ethical issues. Such controversies have not only highlighted the wide range of opinions within and between Member States, but also the existing diversity in regulatory frameworks and principles for assessing the benefits and risks of GM food. In addition, many developing countries cannot afford to build the separate capacities required for effective regulation of GM foods, which again underlines the benefits that could be derived from international work for broader evaluations of GM food applications. At the international level, 15 legally binding instruments and non-binding codes of practice address some aspect of GMO regulation or trade. Such sector-based regulations increase the already overstretched capacity of developing countries, and present challenges to develop a fully coherent policy and regulatory framework for modern biotechnology. This study makes the case for the need for an evidence base to facilitate a more coherent evaluation of the application of modern food biotechnology and the use of GM foods. Such an evidence base should: deal with the assessment of human health and environmental risk as well as benefit; evaluate socioeconomic factors, including intellectual property rights; and consider ethical aspects. International harmonization in all these areas is a prerequisite for the prudent, safe and sustainable development of any new technology, including the use of biotechnology to produce food. Work towards such harmonization can only move forward through inter-sectoral collaboration and would therefore necessarily extend beyond the WHO mandate into the mandates of several other international organizations. This report should be seen as one possible starting point for further inter-sectoral discussions. iv
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1. INTRODUCTION 1.1 Goals and terms of reference The World Health Organization (WHO) commissioned this study to establish a broad knowledge base for Member States, international standard-setting bodies and other stakeholders, in order to achieve transparent and inclusive consensus on the evaluation and application of modern biotechnology in the production of food. The aim of this study is to determine the significance of the application of modern biotechnology to food production in terms of human health and development. The study does not seek to address all issues and evidence in detail, but rather to place in context the overall impact that modern food biotechnology may have on human health and development. It is intended to serve as a scientific basis for potential discussion by the governing bodies of WHO. The study reviews evidence in five broad areas: 1. Current use, research and impending development of foods produced through modern biotechnology, and their significance for human health and development. 2. Risk assessments of present and future products of modern biotechnology in relation to food safety, human nutrition and environmental health. 3. The significance of modern food biotechnology for food security, and the impact of intellectual property rights on research. 4. National capacity for risk assessment and management. 5. The impact of modern food biotechnology on civil society, considering social and ethical concerns. 1.2 Methodology A background group consisting of experts from various Member States (Annex 1) established the terms of reference of the study and a guidance document that directed a small team within WHO to gather the evidence. Members of the background group also assisted in data gathering. Data were gathered using extensive literature and Internet searches, and through a questionnaire supported by approximately 120 responses which was circulated to a broad range of stakeholders in May 2002. The comments received from an electronic stakeholder discussion held between January and April 2003 have also been incorporated. The opinions of participants who attended a stakeholder meeting on 5–6 June 2003 in Geneva, comprising representatives from governments, consumers, industry, research and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), from developed and developing countries, have also been included. The focus on including a broad basis of scientific evidence as well as descriptions of opinions from a broad group of stakeholders has resulted in a list of references which includes documentation from many Internet sites. Documentation originating solely from Internet sites should not, in general, be treated or presented as documentation derived from peer-reviewed literature; however, it has been considered necessary in this study to include data and information presented from both sources, with a clear indication of when information is available solely from Internet sources. 1.3 Modern food biotechnology: definition and overview of potential benefits and risks According to the definition of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC 2001a) (adapted from the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety — see Section 3.3), modern biotechnology is defined as the application of (i) in vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or (ii) fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic 1
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family, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombination barriers, and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection. This study focuses on the application of modern biotechnology (especially recombinant DNA technology) to organisms used to produce food. The application of modern biotechnology to food production presents new opportunities and challenges for human health and development. Recombinant gene technology, the most well-known modern biotechnology, enables plants, animals and microorganisms to be genetically modified (GM) with novel traits beyond what is possible through traditional breeding and selection technologies. It is recognized that techniques such as cloning, tissue culture and marker-assisted breeding are often regarded as modern biotechnologies, in addition to genetic modification. The inclusion of novel traits potentially offers increased agricultural productivity, or improved quality and nutritional and processing characteristics, which can contribute directly to enhancing human health and development. From a health perspective, there may also be indirect benefits, such as reduction in agricultural chemical usage, and enhanced farm income, crop sustainability and food security, particularly in developing countries. The novel traits in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may also, however, carry potential direct risks to human health and development. Many, but not all, genes and traits used in agricultural GMOs are novel and have no history of safe food use. Several countries have instituted guidelines or legislation for mandatory premarket risk assessment of GM food. At the international level, agreements and standards are available to address these concerns. GMOs may also affect human health indirectly through detrimental impacts on the environment, or through unfavourable impacts on economic (including trade), social and ethical factors. These impacts need to be assessed in relation to the benefits and risks that may also arise from foods that have not been genetically modified. For example, new, conventionally bred varieties of a crop plant may also have impacts — both positive and negative — on human health and the environment. 1.4 Recent international controversies and study initiative Conflicting assessments and incomplete substantiation of the benefits, risks and limitations of GM food organisms by various scientific, commercial, consumer and public organizations have resulted in national and international controversy regarding their safe use as food and safe release into the environment. An example is the debate on food aid that contained GM material offered to countries in southern Africa in 2002, after 13 million people faced famine following failed harvests. This international debate highlighted several important issues, such as health, safety, development, ownership and international trade in GMOs. Such controversies have not only highlighted the wide range of opinions within and between Member States, but also the existing diversity in regulatory frameworks and principles for assessing benefits and risks of GMOs. In view of this lack of consensus, the Fifty-third World Health Assembly in 2000 adopted resolution WHA53.15 (WHO 2000b), according to which WHO should strengthen its capacity to support Member States to establish the scientific basis for decisions on GM food organisms, and ensure the transparency, excellence and independence of opinions delivered. This study aims to provide an evidence base to assist individual Member States in their consideration of the application of modern food biotechnology and the use of GM foods, and to facilitate greater international harmonization in this regard. 2
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2. CURRENT USE, RESEARCH AND IMPENDING DEVELOPMENT OF FOODS PRODUCED THROUGH MODERN BIOTECHNOLOGY Foods produced through modern biotechnology can be categorized as follows: 1. Foods consisting of or containing living/viable organisms, e.g. maize. 2. Foods derived from or containing ingredients derived from GMOs, e.g. flour, food protein products, or oil from GM soybeans. 3. Foods containing single ingredients or additives produced by GM microorganisms (GMMs), e.g. colours, vitamins and essential amino acids. 4. Foods containing ingredients processed by enzymes produced through GMMs, e.g. high-fructose corn syrup produced from starch, using the enzyme glucose isomerase (product of a GMM). This study, however, makes no attempt to discriminate between the various categories, and the discussion that follows describes the current and future applications of modern biotechnology in the production of crops, livestock, fish and microorganisms in food production. 2.1 Crops 2.1.1 Crop breeding and the introduction of GM crops for food production Conventional breeding, especially of crops, livestock and fish, focuses principally on increased productivity, increased resistance to diseases and pests, and enhanced quality with respect to nutrition and food processing. Advances in cellular genetics and cell biology methods in the 1960s contributed to the so-called ‘green revolution’ that significantly increased varieties of staple food crops containing traits for higher yield and resistance to diseases and pests in a number of both developed and developing countries (Borlaug 2000). A key driver of the green revolution was to improve the potential to provide sufficient food for all. The intensification and expansion of agriculture brought about by these methods and agricultural systems have, however, also resulted in new forms of health and environmental risks through, for example, increased use of agrochemicals and intensified cultivation resulting in soil erosion. The development of molecular biology in the 1970s and 1980s introduced more direct methods for the analysis of genetic sequences and allowed the identification of genetic markers for desired traits. Such marker-assisted breeding methods are the basis of some current conventional breeding strategies. Whereas modern methods of breeding have significantly increased crop yields over the past 50 years, the future potential of these methods is constrained by the limitations in the natural diversity of trait genotype within crop species and sexual-compatibility boundaries between crop types. To overcome these problems, a number of interested groups (scientists, farmers, governments, agricultural companies) have since the 1980s considered other means to achieve the objectives of improved yields, sustainable agricultural systems, and improvements in human and animal health and the environment. This includes the use of more modern methods to introduce novel traits, such as tolerance to drought, salt, or pests. To achieve these objectives, various public and, more recently, private research programmes have aimed to improve the understanding of and links between crop performance and molecular genetics. With the development and use of recombinant DNA in the 1980s, a tool to overcome the limitation of species incompatibility was found. Modern biotechnology employs molecular techniques to identify, select and modify DNA sequences for a specific genetic trait (e.g. insect resistance) from a donor organism (microorganism, plant or animal), and transfer the sequence to the recipient organism so that it expresses this trait. 3
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Various transformation methods are used to transfer recombinant DNA into recipient species to produce a GMO. For plants, these include transformation mediated by Agrobacterium tumefaciens (a common soil bacterium that contains genetic elements for infection of plants) and biolistics — shooting recombinant DNA placed on microparticles into recipient cells. The methods used in the transformation of various animal species include microinjection, electroporation and germ-line cells (FAO/WHO 2003a). The success rate of transformations in animals tends to be lower than in plants, and to vary from species to species, thus requiring the use of many animals. Genetic modification is often faster than conventional breeding techniques, as stable expression of a trait is achieved using far fewer breeding generations. It also allows a more precise alteration of an organism than conventional methods of breeding, as it enables the selection and transfer of a specific gene of interest. However, with the present technology, in many cases it leads to random insertion in the host genome, and consequently may have unintended developmental or physiological effects. However, such effects can also occur in conventional breeding and the selection process used in modern biotechnology aims to eliminate such unintended effects to establish a stable and beneficial trait. It should be noted that conventional breeding programmes directed by the molecular analysis of genetic markers are also of critical importance to modern plant and animal breeding. However, human and environmental health consequences of these techniques are not considered here. 2.1.2 GM crops currently in commercial production At present, only a few GM crops are permitted for food use and traded on the international food and feed markets. These include herbicide- and insect-resistant maize (Bt 1 maize), herbicide-resistant soybean, rape (canola) oilseed, and insect- and herbicide-resistant cotton (primarily a fibre crop, though refined cottonseed oil is used as food). In addition, several government authorities have approved varieties of papaya, potato, rice, squash, sugar beet and tomato for food use and environmental release. The latter crops, however, are currently grown and traded only in a limited number of countries, mainly for domestic consumption. The regulatory status of GM crops varies among the countries that permit their use and updates can be found on various web-sites, including those of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB). In 2004, the estimated global area of commercially grown transgenic or GM crops was 81 million hectares, grown by 7 million farmers in 18 developed and developing countries. Seven countries grew 99% of the global transgenic crop area in 2004 (Table 1). Insect-resistant GM crops have been developed by expression of a variety of insecticidal toxins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). 1 4
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