Meeting on the safety of foods derived through biotechnology. PAHO/WHO/INPPAZ Buenos Aires, Argentina, 20-21 February 2003
Background and objectives (from report)
It is well established that the foods that we ingest daily should be safe and that the measures to achieve such safety should be based on sound scientific principles. Since its birth in 1948, WHO has been promoting scientific research on food safety and the formulation of principles and standards for utilization by the Member States in their attempts to ensure the safety of their food supply. This has been done through consultative meetings with international experts and dissemination of the resulting recommendations to the Member States and the public through WHO publications, such as the Technical Report Series. Furthermore, in the past decade WHO has provided scientific advice in biotechnology.
Biotechnology is an area of science and technology that is developing very rapidly, with many potential applications to increase the quantity and quality of the food supply. As with any new technology, the safety of the products obtained through its use should be carefully evaluated, a fact that has led WHO to call a series of Expert Consultations to address the safety of foods obtained through its application. Many of those consultations are cosponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
The first Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Foods Derived from Biotechnology was held at WHO headquarters in Geneva from 29 May to 2 June 2000 to address aspects related to the safety of genetically modified foods of plant origin. The second Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Foods Derived from Biotechnology, Allergenicity of Genetically Modified Foods, was held in Rome from 22 to 25 January 2001. In turn, the third Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Foods Derived from Biotechnology, Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Genetically Modified Microorganisms, was held in Geneva from 24 to 28 September 2001.
Among the earlier WHO consultations on foods obtained through biotechnology the following are worthy of note: (1) In 1996 WHO and FAO held a joint advisory meeting to formulate concrete practical recommendations for international standards for assessing the safety of foods obtained through biotechnology. (2) In 1995 the WHO Advisory Meeting on the Application of the Principle of Substantial Equivalence in Assessing the Safety of Foods and Food Components from Plants Obtained through Modern Biotechnology was held to offer practical guidance on the way the concept of substantial equivalence can be utilized to assess safety. (3) In 1993 WHO convened the Advisory Meeting on the Health Aspects of Genetic Markers in Genetically Modified Plants, at which the potential health implications of the genetic marker of resistance to antibiotics, in particular, were evaluated. (4) In 1990 WHO convened the FAO/WHO Joint Consultation on the Strategies to Evaluate Food Safety Obtained through Biotechnological Means, with the object of developing appropriate safety assessment procedures for ensuring the safety of foods obtained through biotechnology.
Consumers worldwide are concerned about potential health and environmental risks from genetically modified foods. It is expected that in June 2003 the Codex Alimentarius principles on risk assessment for genetically modified foods, designed to offer guidance for the respective issues at the national policy level, will be adopted. In view of the fact that the countries of the Region of the Americas are reviewing and updating their regulatory framework for foods, this meeting, in addition to providing information and scientifically based knowledge on genetically modified foods, could also raise awareness among national authorities about the importance of developing food safety systems to facilitate compliance with the respective regulations. The report of this meeting will be submitted to the 13th Inter-American Meeting, at the Ministerial Level, on Health and Agriculture (RIMSA 13), which will be held in Washington, D.C., on 23 and 24 April 2003.
Objectives of the Advisory Meeting
- Analysis of the currently available technical and scientific information on genetically modified foods;
- Examination of the actual situation of genetically modified foods worldwide and in the Americas; and
- Heightened awareness among the Member States of WHO and PAHO about the need for developing adequate food safety systems, in support of the corresponding regulatory frameworks.