Biotechnology-derived and novel foods: Safety approaches and regulations
INTRODUCTION In the history of mankind, the attainment of quantities of food sufficient to ensure a healthy and productive life has always been a major concern. Major milestones in society's effort to ensure adequate food supplies have been the development of agricultural methods and the domestication of livestock in most parts of the world. During the course of these developments, new food items have continuously been selected and introduced as part of the human diet, the assessment of their safety being a consequence of "trial and error." This holds true for edible plants (e.g. potatoes), food products of animal origin, and microorganisms (e.g. those involved in the preparation of fermented foods). Seen in this context, the dietary inclusion of "novel" foods has been and still is a continuing process. The aspect of novelty may easily be expanded to include biotechnology-derived food items. Seen in a broader sense of selection and introduction of genetic variations, biotechnology also has a long history of use in food production and processing. In fact, traditional breeding and selection techniques have a long tradition in the development of new varieties of microbial, plant or animal origin for such uses. The process of selective breeding, however, by crossing and selection, is slow and its possibilities are limited because of the limited genetic diversity of the parent organisms, and the results are often unpredictable. By way of contrast, the "novel" methods of biotechnology (genetic engineering; cell fusion) permit the introduction of rapid and more precisely targeted genetic changes. The aspect of novelty thus may apply to food items or ingredients that have not been used for human consumption before as well as to those that have been produced using new breeding or processing methods (1). In fact, there is still a lack of consensus on the definition of the term " novel food," although it generally covers both foods made by new processing techniques, including those based on methods of
molecular biology, and foods that have not been previously used for human consumption (which often is true only for a certain country or region) (1-4).