Limited federal allergy research funds spent on food biotechnology

June 11, 2002

Washington, D.C. (June 11, 2002) -- The science needed for government regulators to assess allergies in genetically engineered foods could be greatly improved, according to a new report issued today from the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.

The report, "A Snapshot of Federal Research on Food Allergy: Implications for Genetically Modified Food," found that nine federal agencies or institutes currently supervise 33 food allergy research projects totaling between $4.2 and $7 million, but that those funds are spread thin and with little coordination among federal agencies or between research teams. Moreover, the study found that the existing research focuses on known allergens such as peanuts and milk, and that almost no studies examine the allergenicity of novel proteins potentially introduced by foods created through biotechnology. In other words, the funds that have been committed to address the problem are not being strategically allocated to ensure research needs and opportunities are fully met.

Food allergy is an immune-mediated disease caused by food antigens; it occurs only among people who are sensitive to those antigens. As many as 10 million Americans are estimated to have allergies to one or more foods, and for them, reactions to those foods can result in illness or even death. Little is known today about why some people have reactions to food in general. In addition, the increasing use of genetically modified (GM) crops raises several issues relevant to food allergies. On the one hand, biotechnology may help remove or change proteins that can cause allergies, but genetically modified foods could also introduce new proteins into foods that could cause allergic reactions. Without prior experience with the new protein, it is difficult for regulators to predict the potential of the protein to be a serious allergen. Unless a product can be shown not to be an allergen, federal regulators cannot approve it for human consumption.

GM foods currently on the market have been screened for possible allergenicity problems. But some new GM foods may be difficult to judge with current science, as illustrated recently in the case of StarLink, a type of genetically modified corn that was approved for use only in animal feed because it could not be shown that the new protein in the corn was not an allergen.

"Almost two years ago, Starlink accidentally made its way into the human food supply," noted Michael Rodemeyer, executive director of the Initiative. "After massive consumer product recalls, lawsuits, buybacks from farmers and a disruption to American farm export markets that continues today, we still lack answers to the basic science questions posed by government regulators whether StarLink was or was not an allergen," he said. "Was the Starlink recall even necessary for allergy reasons? We just don't know.

"Unfortunately, this lack of scientific knowledge is hindering both the government as well as the private sector -- we need to invest in the science to give regulators the tools and information they need to evaluate new products and protect the public," he concluded

Drs. Lynn R. Goldman and Luca Bucchini of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted the study. The authors reviewed food allergy research funded by the federal government and aimed at investigating food safety. Research abstracts were sourced from CRISP (Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects), a database of research supported by the Department of Health and Human Services, and CRIS (Current Research Information System), a database supported by the US Department of Agriculture as well as additional sources. Because of the way CRISP and CRIS are maintained, the study is a snapshot in time; it captures research projects that were active in Q3 2001 and does not account for studies that may have just been completed or that will soon be approved. The study also does not include research undertaken by the private sector, NGOs or states, which all may have an impact on the advancement of food allergy research but are not easily investigated. The study did not include ongoing federal research projects that more generally investigate allergy and may, in time, produce results that contribute to understanding of food allergy.
For a copy of the study, go to:

The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research project whose goal is to inform the public and policymakers on issues about genetically modified food and agricultural biotechnology, including its importance, as well as concerns about it and its regulation. It is funded by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts to the University of Richmond.

Strategic Communications

Related Proteins Articles from Brightsurf:

New understanding of how proteins operate
A ground-breaking discovery by Centenary Institute scientists has provided new understanding as to the nature of proteins and how they exist and operate in the human body.

Finding a handle to bag the right proteins
A method that lights up tags attached to selected proteins can help to purify the proteins from a mixed protein pool.

Designing vaccines from artificial proteins
EPFL scientists have developed a new computational approach to create artificial proteins, which showed promising results in vivo as functional vaccines.

New method to monitor Alzheimer's proteins
IBS-CINAP research team has reported a new method to identify the aggregation state of amyloid beta (Aβ) proteins in solution.

Composing new proteins with artificial intelligence
Scientists have long studied how to improve proteins or design new ones.

Hero proteins are here to save other proteins
Researchers at the University of Tokyo have discovered a new group of proteins, remarkable for their unusual shape and abilities to protect against protein clumps associated with neurodegenerative diseases in lab experiments.

Designer proteins
David Baker, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Washington to speak at the AAAS 2020 session, 'Synthetic Biology: Digital Design of Living Systems.' Prof.

Gone fishin' -- for proteins
Casting lines into human cells to snag proteins, a team of Montreal researchers has solved a 20-year-old mystery of cell biology.

Coupled proteins
Researchers from Heidelberg University and Sendai University in Japan used new biotechnological methods to study how human cells react to and further process external signals.

Understanding the power of honey through its proteins
Honey is a culinary staple that can be found in kitchens around the world.

Read More: Proteins News and Proteins Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to