In 2000 I was commissioned by a NZ organisation wishing to make a submission to the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification opposing genetic modification (GM) of food to conduct a literature review on the health and safety of GM foods. I looked at both benefits and harms in my review.
There were surprisingly little harms documented. This may be because the other methods agriculturalists use to change the genetic makeup of plants (breeding and producing cross-species hybrids through chemical and irradiation treatments to induce mutations) may lead to the introduction of many undesirable genes, whereas GM techniques introduce only one or a few genes into the crop with prior knowledge of what protein that gene makes, enabling it to be quantified, tested and evaluated for its possible allergic or toxic qualities.
This finding was not what the funder wanted and I understand that they did not use my report in their submission. This work led to a peer reviewed paper followed by chapters in two books.
Health and safety issues pertaining to genetically modified foods
Goodyear-Smith FA. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 25, (4): 371-375, 2001
Genetic modification involves the insertion of genes from other organisms (within or between species) into host cells to select for desirable qualities. Potential benefits of GM foods include increased nutritional value; reduced allergenicity; pest and disease-resistance; and enhanced processing value. Possible detrimental outcomes include producing foods with novel toxins, allergens or reduced nutritional value, and development of antibiotic resistance or herbicide-resistant weeds. Whether testing and monitoring should exceed requirements for conventional foods is under debate. While not necessarily scientifically justifiable, consumer concerns have resulted in Australian and New Zealand requirements to label foods containing GM-produced proteins. It is important that discussion is informed by science and that claims of both benefits and risks are evidence-based, to ensure that the process is driven neither by the vested interest of the bio-technical multinational companies on the one hand, nor ill-informed public fears on the other.
Safety issues of genetically modified foods
Goodyear-Smith F. Chapter 7 oin Annual Reviews in Food and Nutrition Toxicity, Volume 3, edited by Victor R Preedy & Ronald Watson, London, Taylor and Francis Books: 197-220, 2005
Risks and Benefits of Genetically Modified Foods: An Overview
Goodyear-Smith F. Chapter 91 in Culture collections, legal aspects and biosafety, Handbook of Fungal Biotechnology, 2nd ed, edited by Dilip K. Arora; Associate Editors, Paul D. Bridge and Deepak Bhatnagar, New York, Marcel Dekker Inc: 539-548, 2004