WHO study on modern food biotechnology, human health and development
June 1, 2005
From the Executive Summary
This study was commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) to establish a knowledge base for evaluating the application of modern biotechnology in food production. The study does not seek to address all issues and evidence in detail, but rather aims to place in context the overall impact of this technology on human health and development. The study reviews evidence in several broad areas related to the use of genetically modified (GM) organisms in the food supply (GM foods), including a review of GM food products currently available, the assessment of risks and benefits, the broader impact on societies, and the existing regulatory capacity in countries.
During a famine situation in southern Africa in 2002, the reluctance among several recipient countries to receive GM food aid was not primarily linked to health or environment issues, but to socioeconomic, ownership and ethical issues. Such controversies have not only highlighted the wide range of opinions within and between Member States, but also the existing diversity in regulatory frameworks and principles for assessing the benefits and risks of GM food. In addition, many developing countries cannot afford to build the separate capacities required for effective regulation of GM foods, which again underlines the benefits that could be derived from international work for broader evaluations of GM food applications. At the international level, 15 legally binding instruments and non-binding codes of practice address some aspect of GMO regulation or trade. Such sector-based regulations increase the already overstretched capacity of developing countries, and present challenges to develop a fully coherent policy and regulatory framework for modern biotechnology. This study makes the case for the need for an evidence base to facilitate a more coherent evaluation of the application of modern food biotechnology and the use of GM foods. Such an evidence base should: deal with the assessment of human health and environmental risk as well as benefit; evaluate socioeconomic factors, including intellectual property rights; and consider ethical aspects. International harmonization in all these areas is a prerequisite for the prudent, safe and sustainable development of any new technology, including the use of biotechnology to produce food. Work towards such harmonization can only move forward through inter-sectoral collaboration and would therefore necessarily extend beyond the WHO mandate into the mandates of several other international organizations. This report should be seen as one possible starting point for further inter-sectoral discussions.
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