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WHO Hopes Guidelines Will End GM Controversy - 2003-07-14

A top official of the World Health Organization says a recent landmark agreement on how to assess genetically modified food might help blunt controversy on the topic because it sets down specific guidelines for determining whether particular products are safe.

The director of food safety at the World Health Organization, Jorgen Schlundt, says the scientific community has now agreed on the principles for assessing risks posed by genetically modified foods.

Last week, the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization - both United Nations agencies - met in Rome and adopted guidelines on food safety for what are called GM foods. 127 countries at the meeting agreed to the guidelines.

Dr. Schlundt says the guidelines include pre-market safety evaluations, product tracing for recall, and post-market monitoring for DNA modified plants and foods like maize, soya and cheese. He says the tests for GM foods are more rigorous than for other foods put on the market, but they are not as high as the level of testing for a new drug.

"The question should not be put in the generic term as it is often done: Is GM food safe? It is a question that is impossible to answer because you can make GM food that is not safe and you can make GM food that is clearly safer than traditional food," said Dr. Schlundt.

Dr. Schlundt says the new guidelines provide the way forward for the future of genetically modified foods.

"Some people say it is all wonderful and some say it is Franken-food," he added. "This is simply not true. But most people and most regulators are actually somewhere in the middle and that goes for all countries. And they say GM foods can be an improvement to ordinary foods."

Dr. Schlundt says there are still many concerns about genetically modified foods. He says those concerns include the need to buy the special seeds for the plants every year, allergies the foods could cause and environmental issues. Still, he says, genetically modified food has great potential to aid people and economies, particularly in the developing world.