Press release date: Tuesday, 09 Mar 2004 (BMA London)
research and continued surveillance is still needed in key
areas to address public concerns over the potential risks posed
to human health and the environment by genetically modified
(GM) food, says an updated position statement from the BMA's
Board of Science, published today (Tuesday 9 March).
The BMA statement is prepared following
a review of available evidence and takes account of a spectrum
of views on the safety of GM food that were expressed at a round
table meeting of experts.
Sir David Carter, Chairman of the BMA's
Board of Science said:
"Our assessment of all the available
research is that there is very little potential for GM foods
to cause harmful health effects. However the BMA recognises the
huge public concern over the impact of GM foods and believes
that research is still needed in key areas to allay remaining
concern about the potential risks to human health and the environment."
"We have to move away from the
hysteria that has often been associated with GM foods and judge
each genetically modified crop on a case-by-case basis. Decisions
on whether to grow a particular GM crop in the UK should be made
on the basis of whether the benefits outweigh the potential risk
of harm to human health and the environment."
The BMA is interested in all public
health issues and has maintained a watching brief on GM foods
and human health. In 1999 the Association produced an interim
report called "The impact of genetic modification on agriculture,
food and health". Today's publication, "Genetically
modified foods and health: a second interim statement" is
an update of that report.
The position statement highlights the
need for continued research and surveillance to address potential
safety concerns with all novel foods, not only those produced
by GM technology.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, BMA Head of
"The current absence of any evidence
suggesting GM foods pose a threat to human health should not
lead to complacency.
"Public health surveillance should
be so complete that we can be certain that adverse effects from
any dietary change would be recognised. We also need a commitment
to research in key areas to minimise the potential risks to human
health and the environment posed by genetically modified food."
Key areas for further research identified
in the report include:
Food allergies -
Work is still needed to elucidate the potential for genetically
modified foods to cause food allergies. This is especially important
when producing GM crops based on foods already known to cause
allergies e.g. nuts, wheat and soybean.
Genetic transfer -
The transfer of genetic material (DNA) between species has been
observed but its significance is uncertain. While we daily consume
large amounts of non-GM DNA with no identifiable problems, we
need to know whether the risk of DNA transfer is in any way enhanced
by genetic modification of food.
Environmental impact -
It is important that individual crops are assessed on a case-by-case
basis using extensive field trials of the type undertaken recently
in the UK and that crops which are more harmful to the environment
than conventional varieties are not licensed for commercial use.
Risk assessment and monitoring -
It is important that we constantly refine the methodology of
field trials, continuously update the risk assessment process
and are committed to improving nutritional information and associated
health surveillance in the UK.
Dr Nathanson, concluded:
"While the take home message from
our position statement is that research and surveillance is still
needed, we do not doubt that genetically modified foods have
enormous potential to benefit both the developing and the developed
world in the long term. It is clear that public acceptance of
GM foods in the UK will only come if the lingering safety concerns
are eliminated by a continuing commitment to sound scientific
The British Medical Association is a professional
association of doctors, representing their interests and providing
services for its 128,000 members. This includes nearly 4,000
from overseas and 14,000 medical students.