Allergy fears from new and GM foods

People who suffer from food allergies, or even have a genetic predisposition to them are facing a new threat from new varieties of fruit and vegetables and GM foods. The research, presented by Dr Jean-Michel Wal from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) at the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) congress 2011 in Istanbul, assessed the risks of genetically modified plants (GMPs).

GMPs are grown to generate a characteristic in a plant such as resistance to insects or tolerance to herbicides. Some are grown to improve nutritional value, but whatever the effect desired, inserting the transgene may interact with the plants’ own genes causing other unknown effects. The effects of GMPs on the environment and human and animal health are currently assessed before authorisation for sale, and the risk of allergy must be assessed too.

Because this is a new area, there is no template for assessing how digestible newly expressed proteins may be, for example. “The plant or food product must be tested to ensure that the potential for allergy has not been enhanced due to the genetic modification that has changed the overall composition of the plant, now and in future generations of GMPs,” said Professor Wal.

As well as GMPs, new varieties of foods must also be assessed. Proteins in new varieties such as kiwi may cause a varying degree of reactions in people who have to avoid certain foods. Being able to discriminate between kiwi proteins has helped to increase the sensitivity of the diagnostic test for kiwi fruit allergy, as carried out by Dr Karin Hoffmann-Sommergruber of the Medical University of Vienna, Austria. This leads to better advice for allergic patients, who may not necessarily have to avoid all varieties of a fruit, just specific varieties.

Source: European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology

First published in June 2011

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