Food safety

Safety assessment of foods derived from genetically modified microorganisms

A joint FAO/WHO expert consultation on foods derived from biotechnology, Geneva, Switzerland, 24 to 28 September 2001



FAO and WHO have embarked on an initiative to organize a series of scientific expert Consultations to provide scientific and technical advice to their Member States. The scientific advice derived from the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultations can be used by the Member States of FAO and WHO directly. It will also serve as the scientific foundation for the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission in their deliberation on safety assessment guidelines for foods derived from biotechnology presently being developed by the Codex ad hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology.

FAO and WHO have to date organized two Expert Consultations. The first Consultation held in Geneva in June/July 2000 addressed the overall aspects of safety assessment of genetically modified foods of plant origin and responded to five specific questions raised by the First Session of the Task Force (FAO/WHO, 2000). The second Consultation held in Rome in January 2001 specifically addressed the allergenicity of foods derived from biotechnology (FAO/WHO, 2001).

At the 24th Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission held in July 2001, it was decided that the Task Force expand its work in starting the work on drafting a Proposed Draft Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Modified Microorganisms in Food and established a new Working Group to prepare a draft document on this. FAO and WHO at that time announced they would jointly convene a third joint Consultation to consider the scientific aspects of the safety assessment of genetically modified microorganisms in foods in support of this new work.

FAO and WHO convened this Consultation to evaluate and build on experience gained since the previous two FAO/WHO Consultations and to assess whether currently available approaches for assessing the safety of foods and food ingredients derived from genetically modified plants could be applied to genetically modified microorganisms (GMMs). The Consultation examines unique aspects to be considered in the safety assessment of foods produced with the aid of GMMs.

The safety and risk assessment of foods, including genetically modified foods, are generally considered within a framework of risk analysis. Within this framework, reference can be made to the use of precaution in risk management and risk assessment. Ongoing discussions within the Codex system will help guide these considerations further.