ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

12 June 2002


For the full report:
Pew Report: Biotech Allergen Issues Not Being Addressed Properly
by Julianne Johnston, 6/11/2002

A report issued from the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology concludes that limited federal funds are being spent on food allergy research. The report states the science needed for government regulators to assess allergies in genetically engineered foods could be greatly improved.

The report, "A Snapshot of Federal Research on Food Allergy: Implications for Genetically Modified Food," found that nine federal agencies or institutes currently supervise 33 food allergy research projects totaling between $4.2 and $7 million. But the report states those funds are spread thin and with little coordination among federal agencies or between research teams. In addition, the study found the existing research focuses on known allergens such as peanuts and milk, and that almost no studies examine the allergenicity of novel proteins potentially introduced by foods created through biotechnology. In other words, the funds that have been committed to address the problem are not being strategically allocated to ensure research needs and opportunities are fully met.

The report states that as many as 10 million Americans are estimated to have allergies to one or more foods, and for them, reactions to those foods can result in illness or even death. "The increasing use of genetically modified (GM) crops raises several issues relevant to food allergies," states the report. "On the one hand, biotechnology may help remove or change proteins that can cause allergies, but genetically modified foods could also introduce new proteins into foods that could cause allergic reactions. Without prior experience with the new protein, it is difficult for regulators to predict the potential of the protein to be a serious allergen."

Noting the StarLink catastrophe, Pew executive director Michael Rodemeyer said there are still many questions surround the controversy. "After massive consumer product recalls, lawsuits, buybacks from farmers and a disruption to American farm export markets that continues today, we still lack answers to the basic science questions posed by government regulators whether StarLink was or was not an allergen," he said. "Was the Starlink recall even necessary for allergy reasons? We just don't know."

"Unfortunately, this lack of scientific knowledge is hindering both the government as well as the private sector -- we need to invest in the science to give regulators the tools and information they need to evaluate new products and protect the public," he concluded.

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