Fred R. Shank

IFT implemented a new initiative to increase the understanding of science-based information about recombinant (rDNA) technology among our members and others. The results will be presented in various forms targeted to specific key audiences and disseminated in a timely manner. This initiative is a priority of the new Office of Science, Communications, and Government Relations.

The impetus and strategies for the initiative were provided by IFT’s leaders. The Executive Committee established a Biotechnology Task Force and appointed Bruce Stillings as Chair. Daniel Weber, Executive Vice President of IFT, stated during the initial meeting of the Task Force that IFT would implement a process to deal with high priority issues more effectively and timely. In fact, this initiative is the first topic that IFT will address using new procedures for a comprehensive scientific review. Recognizing that IFT has been heavily involved in biotechnology issues, Stillings said the Task Force’s purpose is to develop a plan to focus on issues for the near- and long-term and its charge is to develop a comprehensive action plan for IFT’s role in the biotechnology issue. Stillings noted that the plan should contain a review of past and current IFT activities; key needs related to the biotechnology issues that are restricted to IFT; identification/prioritization of IFT’s appropriate role; and goals, strategies and action items, timetables, and resources required.

During its deliberations, the Task Force identified the overall goal of increasing with target audiences science-based information on rDNA technology that addresses positive applications and concerns about this tool. The Task Force also identified numerous issues for which a comprehensive scientific review and other easily interpretable documents would be beneficial to further the understanding of biotechnology among the scientific community and consumers. The group then agreed that it would be suitable to address the breadth of issues within three main topics: safety, benefits and concerns, and labeling. The group decided to develop a comprehensive scientific white paper consisting of a section on each of these topics that would be the basis for additional documents targeted to specific audiences. Other types of documents identified include backgrounders, answers to frequently asked questions, issue statements, and press kits. Key audiences identified include IFT members (chief executive officers and senior managers of companies, university faculty, IFT’s Biotechnology and other Divisions, IFT’s Codex committee); national and state legislative and senior government officials; news media; and professional and trade organizations.

A plan, including budget implications, for convening three panels of experts to develop the scientific report and developing other materials was approved by the Executive Committee. The panels were established, each comprised of IFT members and other prominent biotechnology authorities, and deliberations begun in March, 2000.

The panels have successfully developed their respective sections of the scientific report and contributed to a separate Introduction section. The Introduction appears in this issue of Food Technology. The other three sections—safety, benefits and concerns, and labeling—will appear in the September issue. Members of the panels will be identified at that time, with the remainder of the report. IFT is very grateful for the hard work and many hours of time provided by the experts. The individuals involved in this initiative eagerly contributed despite many other commitments, including involvement in a plethora of national and international biotechnology activities.

For example, a Codex Ad-Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology was recently established and met for the first time in March in Japan. The group established two working groups to: (1) draft general principles for risk analysis of foods derived from biotechnology and guidance on risk assessment and (2) compile a list of analytical methods for detection or identification of foods or ingredients derived from biotechnology. The Codex group also plans to develop documents on “traceability” and “familiarity.” The Task Force deferred labeling and precautionary principle issues to the Codex Food Labeling and General Principles committees, respectively.

Supporting the Codex work, a Joint Expert Consultation of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) was held in Geneva in May. The consultation was convened to evaluate experience gained since the 1996 FAO/WHO consultation on biotechnology and food safety and to assess whether any new scientific information suggests a need to modify current approaches for assessing safety. The Consultation concluded that there are currently no alternative strategies that provide a better assurance of safety for genetically modified foods than the appropriate use of the concept of substantial equivalence. The concept of substantial equivalence was elaborated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1993 (<>) and recommended by the 1996 FAO/WHO consultation. The entire 2000 FAO/WHO Consultation report, “Safety Aspects of Genetically Modified Foods of Plant Origin,” is accessible via <>.

The OECD recently completed work on biotechnology that was requested last year by the Group of Eight industrial countries. The group agreed that safety assessment based on substantial equivalence is the most practical approach to address the safety of foods and food components derived through modern biotechnology. Entitled “Report of the Task Force for the Safety of Novel Foods and Feeds,” the document is accessible via <>.

Turn to page 124 for the Introduction to IFT’s “Expert Report on Biotechnology and Foods” and stay tuned for more from IFT on this subject.

Vice President, Science, Communications, and Government Relations