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SCIENCE REPORT – July 26, 2001: Rules for Genetically Engineered Foods - 2001-07-25

This is the VOA Special English Science Report.

A group responsible for world food safety has agreed on the first international rules to govern the safety of foods made with genetic engineering.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission approved the rules at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland earlier this month. Codex is a joint agency of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization. One-hundred-sixty-five nations belong to the organization.

Delegates to the Codex Commission meeting examined concerns about the safety of foods made with genetic engineering. Many groups and individuals have expressed concern that such foods could be harmful to human health and the environment.

Genetic engineering is the technology of changing the genes of living things. The changed gene directs the plant or other organism to do things it normally does not do. For example, some crops are genetically engineered to resist harmful insects. The technology has helped farmers increase crop production. It also reduces the need to use chemicals to kill insects.

The Codex Commission agreed that food from genetically engineered organisms should be tested and approved by governments before it can be sold. The delegates said genetically engineered foods should be tested for anything that could cause allergic reactions in humans. They said information about anything known to cause such a reaction should be clearly shown on the product. However, the delegates were not able to agree on a proposal to require the identification of all foods made with genetic engineering.

Jorgen Schlundt is the food safety chief with the World Health Organization. He says genetic engineering can be used to make very safe products. He adds that many foods made with the technology are probably safer than traditional products. But Doctor Schlundt says biotechnology also could be used to do very bad things. He says that is why a system is needed to measure the safety of each product.

W-H-O director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland praised the Codex Commission agreement. She called it the first international step toward measuring the safety of genetically engineered foods.

This VOA Special English Science Report was written by George Grow.