Food safety is a universal concern that applies to all types of food, whether they are genetically modified (GM) or non-GM food. The safety issues affecting food remains the same for both categories, and how we produce, process, store, handle and prepare food can significantly impact its safety.

Are there any specific tests or assessments conducted to determine the safety of GMOs before they are introduced into the market?

When it comes to GMOs, specific tests and assessments are conducted before they are introduced into the market. The safety evaluation of GM products is conducted on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the modification and trait introduced. In the early days of GM crops, a precautionary approach was taken due to the novelty of the technology. Even though scientists then were confident about the safety of the new technology, there was need to rigorously apply safety assessment processes to assure safety as we learnt more about the new technology. 

During the assessment process, the aim is to reduce any potential risks of transferring or creating new toxins or of transferring allergenic compounds from one species to another. The ultimate goal is to ensure that GM products are as safe as conventional products in the market.

Can you explain the role of regulatory agencies in ensuring the safety of GMOs and the measures taken to meet food safety standards?

Just like any technology there is need to have a process to ensure that the technology is used responsibly. Each country depending on their regulatory framework would need a way of regulating GM commodities.

Regulatory agencies play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of GMOs. Each country has its own regulatory framework for regulating GM commodities, either based on existing laws or through the development of new legislation. For example, Kenya developed a biosafety act in 2009 to evaluate and manage GM products. 

In the United States, GM and non-GM products go through the same regulatory process without differentiation. The focus is usually on the product itself rather than the process by which it was developed. Technology developers are required to provide data on the product and demonstrate compliance with safety standards as per the regulations.

Are there any international standards or guidelines that address GMOs and food safety?

Internationally, there are standards and guidelines addressing GMOs and food safety. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO), through the CODEX Alimentarius commission, have developed a food code that applies to all foods in general. This code outlines food standards, guidelines, and codes of practice to protect consumer health and ensure fair trade. In 2003, the commission developed guidelines specifically targeting the safety evaluation of GM products. The aim of these guidelines is to provide a transparent, consistent, and well-defined regulatory process for the global community. While these guidelines are not mandatory, food safety experts and regulators worldwide can make reference and apply them in line with their respective regulatory processes. 

What is your view on the Precautionary principle on regulation of GM products?

The Precautionary Principle that was initially adopted when GMOs were first developed, was embraced as a cautious approach, particularly by countries that are signatories to the CARTEGENA protocol. However, over the years, a wealth of information has been generated, and our understanding of GMO products has grown significantly. As our knowledge of GM technology progresses, it is essential to reevaluate regulations and policies to ensure they remain relevant and adaptive to the dynamic technology and scientific landscape.

In light of the advancements and evolving understanding of GMOs and modern breeding tools in general, it is essential to critically examine the Precautionary Principle and its impact on the development and adoption of not just GM products but application of other new plant breeding techniques. Whilst maintaining the principle’s core focus on safety, it is equally important to assess whether it can be refined to reflect the current state of knowledge and experience after 27 years of GM foods in the market. By doing so, we can foster a regulatory environment that balances precaution and progress, ultimately addressing both consumer safety and technological advancement.

What are some of the common misconceptions or concerns people have regarding GMOs and their impact on food safety, and how would you address them?

Common misconceptions and concerns regarding GMOs and their impact on food safety persist even after three decades of global market presence. One major misconception is that GM foods can cause health problems. Fear-mongering, misinformation, and disinformation have instilled fear among the public and created a negative perception that GMOs are dangerous and harmful. However, it’s important to note that there has not been a verifiable case of GMO products causing adverse effects in the world.

Addressing these concerns requires continued education and ensuring that more people are well-informed about GM technology. One challenge is that scientists and experts often lack the skills and training to effectively communicate and educate the public about GMOs. This is where the government and media play a vital role in educating the public and providing accurate information.

Influential figures in society, such as politicians and religious leaders, can also contribute to the fight against misinformation by reaching out to experts and gaining a deeper understanding of the technology. By ensuring their pronouncements are factual and avoiding the spread of misinformation, these leaders can help shape public perception based on accurate information.

Would you advocate for the adoption of data transportability i.e countries that are importing a GMO commodity to use data generated about the product from the country of origin?

When it comes to food safety, data transportability should be allowed because the principels of safety assessment globally are the same. The CODEX food safety assessment protocol has emerged as an internationally recognized benchmark. The safety assessment guidelines set forth by CODEX are as a result of inter-governmental consultations, are grounded on science, and designed to protect consumer health and facilitate international trade.

Therefore, if a GMO commodity has successfully undergone a safety assessment process in accordance with these internationally accepted guidelines it is considered to be safe, and the safety data can stand scientific scrutiny anywhere in the world. It is important to note that special considerations may be warranted if the food is processed or consumed differently in the importing country. 

Transparency is a cornerstone of data transportability. The importing country must have full access to the safety assessment data and protocols from the country of origin. This allows them to make their own informed decisions based on comprehensive information. Transparency fosters trust and confidence in the safety evaluation process and ensures that regulatory bodies can effectively carry out their responsibilities.

Data transportability is not a novel concept. It has already proven successful in other sectors, such as the medical field. When it comes to drugs, data provided by the manufacturing country serves as the basis for approval in other countries. As long as the drug meets the required testing standards and provides data on safety and efficacy, retesting is not necessary. This approach not only eliminates redundancy but also expedites the availability of life-saving treatments to patients in a timely manner.

Embracing data transportability for GMO commodities brings about a myriad of benefits. It eliminates redundant testing and evaluation processes, saving valuable resources and time. It creates regulatory efficiencies by streamlining the approval process for GMO imports. Moreover, it allows countries to benefit from cutting-edge technologies and scientific advancements developed elsewhere, promoting the global dissemination of safe and innovative GMO products.

What are your final thoughts on this topic and what would you tell the public?

It is important to recognize that social media, while offering advantages, also carries inherent disadvantages. In today’s digital age, it has become a significant source of misinformation and disinformation. This is particularly concerning when it comes to food safety issues, especially in relation to genetically modified (GM) technology.

Individuals seeking accurate information on food safety, including GMOs, are often bombarded with a lot of information, much of which is non-factual and misleading. Contrary to popular misconceptions, food developed through genetic engineering is not inherently riskier than those developed through traditional methods. Genetic engineering is merely a tool that enables faster and potentially safer breeding practices. After close to 30 decades of experience with GMOs we should now acknowledge that there is a history of safe use associated with this technology.