7.3—FDA-approved food additives are known to be safe
FDA Approved Food Additives are Safe to Consume
Analysis of Peer-Reviewed Research:
Genetic Roulette asserts that chemicals, proteins, enzymes and other products made from GM microbes may be unsafe because of the uncertainty and unintended effects created when pieces of DNA are transformed into microbes and inserted into the DNA. It is certainly true that gene insertion can cause mutations. What Genetic Roulette does not tell the reader is that mutant microbes are commonly used to produce many drugs, biochemicals, food ingredients and even flavor agents. Genetic engineering is more precise and better defined than the methods previously used to create industrial microbes, and is thus less likely to produce unintended consequences than the methods we have safely used for many years. The book also neglects to tell the reader that products from GM microbes are investigated carefully to make certain that they are safe and that nothing unusual happened in their development. Smith presents no evidence of actual risk but relies instead on unscientific hypothetical arguments. He offers the use of ISP (Ice Structuring Protein)—an additive that makes ice cream smoother — as a case study. The arguments advanced are unfortunately typical of Genetic Roulette: a misrepresentation of the facts and science, no scientific evidence in support of the arguments, and the circular process of quoting similarly flawed statements by the same handful of dedicated opponents of modern biotechnology. What this section really proves is that Smith and his henchmen are irrationally opposed to any use of gene technology.
1. GM Microbes are more precisely developed and their safety is more fully investigated before they are used to make food ingredients and other products. Smith argues that insertion of DNA into microbes could produce unexpected and deleterious results. As we explained when discussing plant transformation (see sections 2.6 and 2.9) while it is true that insertion of DNA can cause mutations, transformation of microbes by genetic engineering techniques produces less mutations, deletions, rearrangements and instability in the DNA. This is because scientists screen for and select microbes that have no unintended changes, and—unlike the case in plants—there are techniques with microbes that allow the researcher to select exactly where the DNA will be inserted in the chromosome. Smith either does know this, or doesn’t want the reader to know. Genetic Roulette fails to inform the reader that microbes and products selected for production are subjected to rigorous safety testing. Often the products of these microbes are highly purified ingredients, and as Genetic Roulette admits, they have no GM cells in them. Interesting, under EU regulations these products are not even considered to be GM products. Smith repeats the old myth about genetic engineering being responsible for toxic impurities in tryptophan that was found to be incorrect in an earlier section (see our section 1.20). Smith is blindly opposed to GMOs, so no matter how the technology is used, he is opposed to it.
2. Ice Structuring Proteins (ISP) are safe to eat. The FDA has agreed to Unilever’s claim that ISPs are safe to add to ice cream (FDA 2003). Adding ISPs to ice cream produces a creamier ice cream that will not form grainy crystals when it ages in your freezer. Studies show consumers strongly prefer ice cream made with ISP to conventional ice cream. First, without any experiments or evidence Smith offers the reader the tired old claim that gene insertion could have resulted in unintended effects such as toxic impurities in the final product. Problem is that beside the lack of evidence and the fact that this has never been observed to occur, these products are purified and tested in animals and humans to make sure that they are safe. Genetic Roulette claims that although ISP has been a part of the human diet (it comes from arctic fish where it helps keep them from freezing), the prior history of human consumption is irrelevant because we would be eating more of the ISP than ever before. Well that is true so in order to make sure that there would be no possible adverse effects, researchers demonstrated that the protein does not resemble any known allergen or protein toxin in any way. Showed that it is digestible, and they showed that people with fish allergies don’t react to it—more correctly said, antibodies in their serum don’t react to it proving it is not a fish allergen. Genetic Roulette quotes a rather amusing argument by Joe Cummins (one of the small band of anti-GM activists who seems to turn out endless quotable material against GMs of any kind). Cummins says testing for known fish allergens is deceptive because the fish allergen isn’t related to ISP. That’s right Joe, the experiment shows ISP isn’t a fish allergen, so it’s safe! Cummins also makes the mistake that Smith made earlier when he calls ISP an” immunological time bomb” because it’s glycosylated just like what Smith refers to as that “allergenic pea allergen” we discussed earlier (see section on CSIRO pea 1.18). It’s worth repeating that many of the proteins in our diets are glycosylated and very few glycosylated proteins are allergens. It’s maybe not surprising that Cummins doesn’t understand this since he is a retired Professor of Mycology who studied the fungi of plant roots and produced one peer-reviewed paper in his career. He knows little about biotechnology or immunology but he is dead set against GM crops and microbes. It’s really up to the reader to decide which has greater credibility, Unilever and the FDA (and the two professors who are writing this) or Jeff Smith, a non-scientist anti-GM activist who is making a good living by opposing GM crops, and his anti-GM associate, Joe Cummins who misrepresents allergic potential—perhaps because it’s not his specialty.
FDA (2003) Agency Response Letter GRAS Notice No. GRN 000117. April 17, 2003. In this letter to Unilever, the FDA Office of Food Ingredient Safety concurs with Unilever’s assertion that ISP is a GRAS food ingredient. GRAS means Generally Regarded as Safe; only GRAS ingredients may be used in foods.
Food additives created from GM microorganisms pose health risks
1. Certain food ingredients and processing agents are derived from GM bacteria, fungus, or yeast.
2. Even if the transgene is not found in the food, the GM process still carries risks.
3. The GM protein may be unhealthy, have altered properties or react with other compounds in unpredictable ways.
4. The transgene gene insertion process might also disrupt normal gene expression of the microorganisms.
Genetic Roulette argues that food additives and ingredients made from GM foods may be unsafe because the uncertainties of genetic engineering could have altered the microbes used to produce them.