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Biotech Allergen Issues not
Being Addressed

For the full report: http://pewagbiotech.org/research/
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Pew Report: Biotech Allergen Issues Not Being Addressed Properly
by Julianne Johnston
Agweb.com, 6/11/2002

A report issued from the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology concludes
that limited federal funds are being spent on food allergy research. The
report states the science needed for government regulators to assess allergies
in genetically engineered foods could be greatly improved.

The report, "A Snapshot of Federal Research on Food Allergy: Implications
for Genetically Modified Food," found that nine federal agencies or institutes
currently supervise 33 food allergy research projects totaling between $4.2
and $7 million. But the report states those funds are spread thin and with
little coordination among federal agencies or between research teams. In
addition, the study found the existing research focuses on known allergens
such as peanuts and milk, and that almost no studies examine the allergenicity
of novel proteins potentially introduced by foods created through
biotechnology. In other words, the funds that have been committed to address
the problem are not being strategically allocated to ensure research needs and
opportunities are fully met.

The report states that as many as 10 million Americans are estimated to have
allergies to one or more foods, and for them, reactions to those foods can
result in illness or even death. "The increasing use of genetically modified
(GM) crops raises several issues relevant to food allergies," states the
report. "On the one hand, biotechnology may help remove or change proteins
that can cause allergies, but genetically modified foods could also introduce
new proteins into foods that could cause allergic reactions. Without prior
experience with the new protein, it is difficult for regulators to predict the
potential of the protein to be a serious allergen."

Noting the StarLink catastrophe, Pew executive director Michael Rodemeyer
said there are still many questions surround the controversy. "After massive
consumer product recalls, lawsuits, buybacks from farmers and a disruption to
American farm export markets that continues today, we still lack answers to
the basic science questions posed by government regulators whether StarLink
was or was not an allergen," he said. "Was the Starlink recall even necessary
for allergy reasons? We just don't know."

"Unfortunately, this lack of scientific knowledge is hindering both the
government as well as the private sector -- we need to invest in the science
to give regulators the tools and information they need to evaluate new
products and protect the public," he concluded.


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