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Ethical guidelines needed before 'nutrigenomic' groceries come to market

enlarging already huge inequities in health status and disease burden both within developed nations, and especially between developed and developing countries.

If nutritional genomics testing turns out to be valuable for health care, there will be pressure on governments to fund the tests. As a general principle, the higher the predictive value of the nutrigenetic test, and the more effective known interventions are, the clearer the practitioner's duty to offer the test and society's obligation to fund it.

Regulation and oversight

Governments are looking at what if any regulations are needed to cover issues in this field, including scientific research, consent, counseling, testing technology and standards, who gets to provide nutritional genomics services, and access to nutritional genomics information.

Governments have a wide range of options. The most open would be to leave the issue to the market, as is now the case for home pregnancy testing kits or genetic testing to establish parentage. Moving up a step, governments could require or professional groups or the industry could unilaterally establish voluntary codes of practice. The most severe level of would be strict regulation, similar to that covering prescription drugs or HIV testing. This level might be applied only to testing that has a high potential psychological impact on a person or that requires extensive analysis or interpretation.

As nutritional genomics research zeroes in on more specific links between specific foods and diseases, the line between foods and drugs may become more blurred. This could pose challenges for governments, which have tended to regulate food and drugs differently. Governments are already grappling with what health benefits foods should be permitted to claim, and how these claims should be communicated to the public.

Because some of these "foods" make claims that enter the terrain traditionally limited to drugs, governments n
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3-Nov-2003


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