Seeking clarity in the debate over the safety of GM foods

Article metrics


One reason for the unsatisfactory state of GM food regulation1 is the assumption, stated in the FAO/WHO biotechnology and food safety report3 and adopted by UK regulators, that genetic engineering does not differ from conventional selective breeding. Hence, Trewavas and Leaver2 conclude that GM food should not be subject to more rigorous testing than novel non-GM food.

I believe this assumption is erroneous. Genetic engineering enables exotic genes from viruses and bacteria and other non-food species to be introduced into food crops. These genes are combined in novel constructs, often with viral promoters to make genes overexpress continuously. The constructs are inserted into genomes by transformation techniques that cannot control where the genes go, resulting in a range of unpredictable positional effects and rearrangements. I would prefer to have a moratorium on environmental releases of GM material until safety issues have been more adequately and openly addressed.


  1. 1

    Millstone, E., Brunner, E. & Mayer, S. Nature 401, 525– 526 (1999).

  2. 2

    Trewavas, A. & Leaver, C.J. Nature 401, 640 (1999).

  3. 3

    Food & Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Biotechnology and Food Safety: Report of a Joint FAO/WHO Consultation (FAO, Rome, 1997).

  4. 4

    Gasson, M.J. Nature 402, 229 (1999).

  5. 5

    Getz, J. M., Venecil, W. K. & Hill, N.S. The 1999 Brighton Conference 8C-6, 835–840 (British Crop Protection Council, Farnham, 1999).

  6. 6

    Burke, D. Nature 401, 640–641 (1999).

Download references

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Ho, M. Seeking clarity in the debate over the safety of GM foods. Nature 402, 575 (1999) doi:10.1038/45058

Download citation

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.