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Clinical and laboratory investigation of allergy to genetically modified foods

June 01, 2003
Environmental Health Perspectives

Jonathan A Bernstein, I Leonard Bernstein, Luca Bucchini, Lynn R Goldman, Robert G Hamilton, Samuel Lehrer, Carol Rubin, and Hugh A Sampson

Technology has improved the food supply since the first cultivation of crops. Genetic engineering facilitates the transfer of genes among organisms. Generally, only minute amounts of a specific protein need to be expressed to obtain the desired trait. Food allergy affects only individuals with an abnormal immunologic response to food--6% of children and 1.5-2% of adults in the United States. Not all diseases caused by food allergy are mediated by IgE. A number of expert committees have advised the U.S. government and international organizations on risk assessment for allergenicity of food proteins. These committees have created decision trees largely based on assessment of IgE-mediated food allergenicity. Difficulties include the limited availability of allergen-specific IgE antisera from allergic persons as validated source material, the utility of specific IgE assays, limited characterization of food proteins, cross-reactivity between food and other allergens, and modifications of food proteins by processing. StarLink was a corn variety modified to produce a (Italic)Bacillus thuringiensis(/Italic) (Bt) endotoxin, Cry9C. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigated 51 reports of possible adverse reactions to corn that occurred after the announcement that StarLink, allowed for animal feed, was found in the human food supply. Allergic reactions were not confirmed, but tools for postmarket assessment were limited. Workers in agricultural and food preparation facilities have potential inhalation exposure to plant dusts and flours. In 1999, researchers found that migrant health workers can become sensitized to certain Bt spore extracts after exposure to Bt spraying.