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Ethical guidelines needed before 'nutrigenomic' groceries come to market

NOTE: This release was updated on Friday 31 October.

New research designed to help consumers create customized diets based on their genetic make up will create ethical and legal challenges with serious implications for the scientific and medical communities, warns a new consultation paper by a panel of international experts.

The paper, "Nutrition and Genes: Science, Society and the Supermarket," a joint project of the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics (JCB) and the University of Guelph philosophy department, examines ethical questions surrounding the rapidly emerging field of nutritional genomics, also called nutrigenomics, the study of how nutrients and genes interact and how genetic variations can cause people to respond differently to food nutrients.

Research started in 2000 and is still in its infancy but scientists already predict it could bring about radical changes in how food is grown, processed and consumed. They believe it will not be long before the arrival of personalized diets tailored to genetic make up. A major target will be the baby boomers, reaching their 50s and 60s and trying to forestall the onset of age-related health problems such as heart disease, arthritis, menopausal hot flashes and bone-density loss.

But the paper's authors warn against a headlong rush to embrace nutritional genomics before there has been a detailed examination of its moral and ethical implications, backed by national awareness campaigns and public consultations.

The paper, prepared by a nine-member panel of international experts for presentation at the 2nd International Nutrigenomics Conference (Amsterdam Nov. 6-7), stops short of prescribing specific ethical guidelines for the development and implementation of nutritional genomics technology. Rather, it is designed to foster public debate, setting out issues that must be considered as consumers begin customizing diets to prevent and mitigate chronic health
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