Genetically modified foods and food allergy

Genetically modified (GM) foods have their DNA changed to increase resistance to damage and/or to improve their nutritional value.

Genetically modified food samples in test tubesBecause the GM food may contain new proteins, their potential allergenicity must be assessed before the foods are available for consumption.

In Europe, GM crops are tightly regulated and assessed for allergenicity by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), yet concerns over GM food safety still exist.

There are two widely reported studies which demonstrate GM foods causing an allergic reaction.

In the first one, human volunteers developed an allergic reaction during the skin prick testing to the modified soya bean (with transferred Brazil-nut protein to improve its nutritional value).

This food was never approved, which demonstrated the effectiveness of the GM food allergenicity assessment in protecting public health. In the second study, a bean modified to increase its resistance to damage, caused an immune reaction in the lungs of mice.

The allergenicity of GM foods currently available on the international market has been evaluated and, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), these foods are not likely to be harmful to people.

The EFSA and Codex Alimentarius Commission framework established by WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to protect consumer health, provide a framework for undertaking allergenicity assessment.

Further reading