Kiwi professor's anti-GM claims rejected

Food Standards Australia New Zealand has rejected claims by an anti-GM academic University of Canterbury that plants using gene silencing techniques create  biosafety risks.

The claims by genetics lecturer Professor Jack Heinemann also included research by academics in Australia and Spain.

The research claimed small double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) generated in GM plants were not being adequately assessed by regulators and it suggested changes to the safety assessment process to address their concerns.

FSANZ says it has carefully examined the arguments and has thoroughly researched the scientific literature on gene silencing.

It has found the weight of scientific evidence published to date does not support the view that small dsRNAs in foods are likely to have adverse consequences for humans.

“In formulating their hypothesis, the authors have not taken into account the fact that small dsRNAs are ubiquitous in the environment and in the diverse range of organisms we consume as food, including plants and animals,” FSANZ says.

”This establishes a long history of safe human consumption which pre-dates the use of such techniques in GM plants. “

The FSANZ also says the authors fail to adequately acknowledge that developing oral therapies based on small dsRNAs targeted against human viruses and other diseases such as cancer has so far been unsuccessful because of the barriers that exist to their uptake, distribution and targeting within the body.

They have also under-estimated the strengths of the GM food safety assessment to detect possible unintended effects, including those that could arise from the use of gene silencing.

“There is no scientific basis for suggesting that small dsRNAs present in some GM foods have different properties or pose a greater risk than those already naturally abundant in conventional foods.

“The current case-by-case approach to GM food safety assessment is sufficiently broad and flexible to addresses the safety of GM foods developed using gene silencing techniques," FSANZ says.

"This approach enables additional studies to be requested should that be necessary to further inform the safety assessment of a particular GM food. “

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