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Bioengineering has pushed farmers beyond the age-old practice of selective breeding, whereby one animal or plant strain was crossed with a related one to bring out desirable characteristics and suppress less useful ones. Now, scientists can manipulate genes and create new strains out of unrelated species. Foods, ingredients, and additives produced by bioengineering must meet the same FDA safety standards as traditional products. The total acreage of bioengineered crops is still small, but it represents a growing practice.



Food producers are responsible for ensuring that the foods they sell are safe. The US Department of Agriculture has the authority to remove meat, poultry, and egg products produced in federally inspected plants, and the FDA has the authority to remove all other foods from the market if they pose a risk to public health.


Risk of Allergic Reactions

One area of concern related to the transfer of genetic material is the possibility that proteins introduced from one food into another could cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to the first food. For example, a tomato bred to produce a protein normally found in peanuts could cause potentially life-threatening symptoms when eaten by someone allergic to peanuts. For this reason, the FDA requires clear scientific proof of safety from developers working with foods to which people are commonly allergic, such as milk, eggs, wheat, fish, tree nuts (eg, walnuts, pecans), and legumes (eg, beans, peanuts). It’s impossible to predict allergic reactions to proteins derived from plants or other sources if they are not recognized causes of allergy. Nevertheless, scientists can test a bioengineered protein to see whether its structure resembles that of a known allergen. If it does, further tests show whether an allergic cross-reaction is likely.