NAS Report Highlights Potential Concerns With GM Animals

August 22, 2002

3 Min Read
NAS Report Highlights Potential Concerns With GM Animals

WASHINGTON--While there is no existing evidence that indicates products from cloned or genetically modified animals are unsafe for human consumption, there are several concerns that should be taken into account before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules on this matter, according to a report issued on Aug. 20 by the National Academies of Science (NAS). FDA commissioned the report while it prepares to rule on the safety of certain animal biotechnology products, particularly cloned cattle. FDA asked the committee to cite science-based concerns, rather than identify potential benefits from animal biotechnology or to make policy recommendations.

"As is the case with any new technology, it is almost impossible to state that there is no concern, and in certain areas of animal biotechnology, we did identify some legitimate ones," said committee chair John G. Vandenbergh, professor of zoology at Raleigh-based North Carolina State University. "By identifying these concerns, we hope we can help this technology be applied as safely as possible without denying the public its potential benefits."

The greatest concern identified by the NAS committee is the possibility of genetically engineered organisms escaping and reproducing in the wild, as they may offer unfair competition for food and mates. The committee mentioned the case of transgenic salmon, as the fish are engineered with genes to accelerate their growth, making them larger than their wild counterparts.

Another concern the NAS committee mentioned was the chance of allergic or hypersensitive reactions that may occur due to the presence of new proteins that develop from inserted genes. "The potential for allergenicity is difficult to gauge, however, since it can only be detected once a person is exposed and experiences a reaction," according to a press release from NAS (www.nationalacademies.org). "While a reaction will be recognizable, as it is with well-known allergens like peanuts and shellfish, the uncertainty surrounding new proteins and potential impact on consumers who may be allergic is serious enough to elicit a moderate level of concern."

Biotechnology applications may have an adverse effect on animal welfare, according to the committee. Animals created through in vitro fertilization or cloning often have higher birth weights and longer gestation periods, which is difficult on the mother and usually requires a caesarian section birth. Additionally, the process for creating animals this way is "inefficient at producing fetuses that survive." The committee also voiced concern that transgenic animals may develop anatomical, physiological or behavioral abnormalities as a result of an inserted gene.

The committee added that animals genetically modified to create drugs in their milk may suffer adverse events should the pharmaceutical develop in other bodily tissues, and meat from these animals should not be allowed for human consumption. Adequate controls should be in place to ensure restrictions on the use of carcasses from these animals, according to the committee, which stated in at least one instance, meat from the carcasses of such animals was used to make a food product.

The committee concluded by saying although it was not asked to make policy recommendations, the current regulatory framework may not be adequate given that the responsibilities of federal agencies for regulating animal biotechnology are unclear in some respects.

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