Market introduction of genetically modified (GM) food crops in Europe has given rise to broad public concern based upon unfamiliarity with the new molecular techniques applied and the fact that the genetic material of these food plants has been altered in a manner which in nature by way of reproduction or natural recombination is not possible. Hazards of large-scale cultivation of transgenic plants and of chronic exposure of humans and animals to transgenic food are issues of intense debate.
- to identify key issues of the safety evaluation of genetically modified food crops, and to examine whether current research methods are adequate to characterise specific safety hazards;
- to co-ordinate ongoing research regarding safety testing of transgenic foods in the framework of the European research program FP5;
- to design new (in-vitro) test methodologies for safety and nutritional evaluation of whole complex foods, which are of sufficient sensitivity and specificity;
- to address the risks of gene transfer from genetically modified organisms to the gut microflora of humans and animals;
- to examine new strategies for the detection of genetically modified foods, which enable detection at specific threshold levels for raw materials, processed products and food ingredients;
- to examine the fate of genetically modified raw materials and processed products throughout food production chains (tracking and tracing);
- to develop criteria for quality assurance systems to guarantee 'non-GMO-containing' materials throughout food chains
- to develop a communication platform of producers of GMOs, scientists involved in research and safety evaluation of GMOs, retailers, regulatory authorities and consumer groups with the scope to improve safety assessment procedures, risk management strategies and risk communication.
The Thematic Network will identify proper research strategies and tools to address issues related to safety and management of transgenic food products. Participants involved in research, safety assessment and management, regulation and consumers interests will evaluate ongoing research activities in this area, discuss new approaches and establish a permanent platform for communication between the various parties involved. As a result various Working Groups will write a number of research papers and position documents. These documents will be incorporated into one position paper, which will give guidance on the various aspects mentioned above. It is important to demonstrate that the scientific challenges of safety testing of genetically modified foods can be met, while further initiatives will be taken in Europe to improve current test methodologies, using modern molecular based techniques. Agreement on safety assessment strategies for GMOs, and on issues related to risk management and risk communication will facilitate market introduction of GMOs in Europe, and therefore bring the European industry in a competitive position.