Final Pew Initiative Report Examines Status of Research on Functional Foods and Regulations They Will Face
Researchers are using biotechnology to enhance nutritional and other properties of food for consumer benefit, but such products will face a complicated array of review requirements before they can come on the market, according to Application of Biotechnology for Functional Foods, a final new report released today by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. The report provides an overview of functional foods—foods that are enhanced to provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition—and looks at the potential to develop these foods through the application of modern biotechnology. After detailing some of the recent scientific advances that could lead to a variety of functional foods on grocery store shelves, the report also analyzes how such foods could be evaluated and regulated. The report makes clear that the regulatory landscape for food products is already complex and that how producers choose to categorize their products greatly affects how they will be overseen, marketed and ultimately perceived by consumers. The addition of biotechnology-derived functional foods will further complicate this already convoluted system, and will present product developers, food manufacturers and consumers with a multitude of marketing decisions, each of which will have different consequences for oversight.
“Functional foods produced through biotechnology hold the promise of new consumer benefits, but they may also pose new challenges for the regulatory system,” said Michael Fernandez, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. “How different foods are brought to the marketplace will have significant impacts on the way they are regulated, and ultimately on how they are perceived by consumers.”
Scientists are currently working to bring the long awaited promise of genetically engineered food with consumer benefits closer to reality. Examples include:
- Oils that produce no trans fats or contain heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Cassava, a staple food for 500 million people in tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world, genetically engineered to increase the protein content and help fight malnutrition.
- Increasing antioxidants in foods, providing protection against potentially damaging breakdown products arising from oxidation during normal metabolism.