Submitted to: Nature
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: January 23, 1997
Publication Date: N/A
Technical Abstract: Your news story "Europe agrees a compromise on food labels" (Nature 384, 502-503; 1996) pointed out that consumer, food industry and environmental groups have weighed in with opinions on the newly proposed compromise on labeling of genetically modified foods in Europe. Conspicuously absent from the article was any mention of views from within the science community. Although disclosure of the contents of food is an important issue, the potential categorization of food into genetically modified and non-modified groups warrants more discussion. For example, triticale, a polyploid plant containing full copies of both rye and wheat genomes, was developed 60 years ago and is now grown on more than a million hectares in Canada, Mexico and eastern Europe. Modern plums contain chromosomes from cherry plums and blackthorn. Russian wheat has genes from both rye and wild wheat grass, and French plant breeders have introduced fungal eyespot disease-resistance genes from goat grass into French domestic wheats. This is a sampling of a much longer list illustrating that many present-day crops used to produce food for humans have for years contained foreign genes without the application of recombinant DNA technology. Newer transformation technologies clearly expand the range of foreign genes that can be introduced into crops, but the public debate centers principally on food safety issues. Those writing regulations relating to safety should give significant weight to input from the scientific community. The more the focus is kept on safety of the product for humans and the environment, with decisions being made on the basis of the soundest scientific findings, the better results should be for consumers and environment.