assessment of biotechnological processes and products in the agro-food area
The Safety Assessment of Biotechnological Processes and Products in the
Agro-Food Area (SABAF) was conceived to assess the impact and improve
the safety of the use of genetically modified (GM) organisms in the community
and the environment. Its aim is to reach a consensus within an international
group of researchers, on performance and monitoring systems used in the
assessment of biosafety of biotechnological processes and products, and
on safe biotechnological production processes and equipment. Attention
is focused on risks associated with both modern biotechnology involving
GM organisms, and with 'classical' products and processes.
This project addressed the use of GM organisms with respect to food safety,
occupational safety and communication of knowledge about GM organisms
to the general public.
Approach and methodology
Seven 2-3 day workshops were organised between 1995 and 1997. Each was
attended by 20-35 participants from research institutes, universities,
industry and consumer organisations, from 6-10 European Union countries.
The seven workshops were:
related to biotechnological agro-food processes and products.
techniques for detection/enumeration of biological materials.
issues in work places where biological agents are handled.
and toxicity; safety/pathogenicity of micro-organisms.
monitoring systems for equipment and microbial air contamination.
evaluation of novel and transgenic crops.
workshop. Conclusions and communication of results to non-scientists.
were communicated at international and national conferences, to expert groups,
at European and national biosafety training courses, and in annual progress
reports and workshop proceedings.
Main findings and outcome
Three major issues were examined in the area of food safety. Firstly,
microbial infections occur largely due to a lack of understanding of the
major risks and a lack of appropriate guidelines, standards and testing
methods. TNO and other project partners have initiated a major Thematic
Network in the 5th Framework Programme - HYFOMA, QLK1-2000-01359 - for
the development and adoption of standards to ensure hygienic and safe
food production. Hyfoma includes also a broader educational programme.
Secondly, the risks of being affected by known allergens, e.g. egg, milk
and wheat proteins, is far higher than that of being affected by potentially
allergenic proteins of GM foods. This risk increases as food proteins
are increasingly used as 'functional' ingredients outside their traditional
product range (e.g. wheat gluten in meat products). It is strongly recommended
that future research focuses on increasing the basic understanding of
known allergens and allergenicity. Finally, more detailed guidelines for
safety evaluations were recommended (i.e. the approach recommended by
Occupational risks of 'high-tech', modern biotechnological processes appear
to be far lower than those of 'low-tech' processes, such as farming, artisan
bread baking, and waste sorting, where large numbers of workers in the
European Union have developed occupational allergies. Training and education
of workers and management, and the introduction of low-cost measures to
avoid the exposure of workers to biological materials, need to be a high
priority in 'low-tech' processes. SABAF discussions on monitoring methods,
particularly for airborne biological materials, will lead to improved
A crucial aspect of research into GM organisms is the effective communication
of the results to the general public. Experts need to take into account
that perceived risks are 'socially constructed', and that disparities
between expert and lay perceptions are frequently observed. To provide
adequate information to the public, it is essential that the psychological
characteristics which determine risk perception be understood. Consumer
organisations are being faced with plausible but opposing opinions (e.g.
industry versus non-governmental organisations), notably in discussions
on environmental risks of GM crops. Clearly, more information and discussion
between the conflicting parties is essential.
The present evaluations of GM products in Europe are unclear, which is
leading to a strong negative discrimination of GM crops compared with
classically bred crops. This highlights the need for the effective communication
of information in this area. 'Classical' risks are of comparable, if not
larger, magnitude to those of modern biotechnology. Therefore, legislation
as well as the development of new, efficient assessment methods should
focus on areas with high safety risks. Risks associated with modern biotechnology
need to be considered in the context of those of classical products and
processes. The presence of people with widely varying backgrounds in SABAF
workshops, has contributed to the flow of information across and within
member states and has strengthened the biosafety network in the European
Van der Kamp J.W., Havenaar R. (eds.), Safety Assessment of Biotechnological
Processes and Products in the Agro-Food Area, Proceedings of
Workshops 1-7 (7 volumes).
January 1995 - December 1997
J.W. van der Kamp
TNO Nutrition and Food Research
Unilever Research Laboratory
Fraunhofer institute of Systemtechnik und Innovationsforschung
TNO BIBRA International
Bundesanstalt für Milchforschung
Campden & Chorleywood Food Research Association
Chipping Camden (UK)
PHLS Center for Applied Microbiology and Research (CAMR)
Danish Technology Institute
International Centre Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology
DSM-Gist Brocades BV
Swedish Institute for Food Research
Technische Universität München (DE)
University of Agriculture
VTT Biotechnology & Food Research