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International Nutrigenomics Panel Seeks Input for Ethical Recommendations

NEW YORK, Nov. 4 (GenomeWeb News) - An international panel of scientists is seeking feedback on ethical questions surrounding the emerging field of nutrigenomics -- the study of how nutrients and genes interact and how genetic variations can cause people to respond differently to food nutrients.

The nine-member panel has released an initial "consultation paper" designed to foster public debate by introducing issues to be considered before consumers begin customizing diets to match their genetic profiles in the interest of preventing or managing chronic health conditions.

The paper, "Nutrition and Genes: Science, Society and the Supermarket," is a joint project of the University of Toronto Joint Center for Bioethics (JCB) and the University of Guelph philosophy department. It will be presented at the second International Nutrigenomics Conference in Amsterdam, Nov. 6-7.

The paper identifies several principal issues for discussion, including the uncertainty surrounding the market-readiness of genomic testing technology; questions about who should and should not have access to nutritional genomics information; questions about the best mechanisms for delivering nutritional genomics information to consumers; and concerns about potential nutrigenomics-related inequities. In addition, the paper raises the question of which nutritional genomics concerns should be the subject of regulation and oversight by the US FDA and other regulatory agencies.

The panel will collect input from professional groups, citizens' organizations, and individuals before issuing recommendations next year. "This is a new model to get people's input before the science is fully rolled out," said JCB director Peter Singer in a statement. "By addressing the ethical issues before nutrigenomic technologies reach the supermarket, we hope they can ultimately be introduced in the most ethical way."

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