No unauthorised GM ingredients have been found in tests on tortilla chips following an investigation by the Food Standards Agency. Friends of the Earth had claimed in November that some tortilla chips in the UK contained low levels of the unauthorised GM maize varieties GA21 and DBT418.

An independent analysis of the flour used in the chips was undertaken by US based Genetic-ID, a leading laboratory in this field. The UK’s Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes has already advised that there would be no safety concern if such low levels of DNA were present, as stated by Friends of the Earth.

A total of 11 flour samples were analysed using the authentic GM maize GA21 and DBT418, for comparison. All samples came from the same batches of flour used in the production of tortilla chips analysed by German based lab Genescan for Friends of the Earth. In all cases no unauthorised GM ingredients were found.

The Food Standards Agency has also assessed information provided by Law Laboratories, Reading Scientific Services Limited and Genetic-ID regarding the sensitivity and reliability of the detection methods used. This has shown that, as with all analytical techniques, there is a point below which results become unreliable. It also demonstrated the need for care when interpreting results from methods operating at the limits of sensitivity.

Nick Tomlinson, Head of Novel Foods at the Agency, said:

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“In the case of detection methods for specific GM varieties the Agency is of the view that, based on the information provided by the laboratories, the current limit at which meaningful conclusions can be drawn is 0.1%. The Agency also confirms that there are no food safety implications associated with the very low levels of GM material that Friends of the Earth claim to have found.”

Sandy Myers, vice president of Genetic-ID, confirmed that “the sampling systems, extraction techniques and detection methodology applied create uncertainty below 0.1%. This uncertainty raises doubts about the reproducibility of results regarding the absence or presence of GMO’s and in particular cannot guarantee the identity of the variety concerned below the threshold of 0.1%”.

The Agency is planning to hold an open meeting early in the new year with all interested parties to debate the issues that arise from the possible presence of very low levels of GM materials and to investigate what further action may be necessary at EU level.


  1. The GM maize varieties GA21 and DBT418 have been approved for human consumption in the US but not the EC.

  2. Studies on the tortilla chips were carried out first to determine whether any GM material was present. To increase the probability of detecting the presence of any unapproved varieties, flour samples used to produce the tortilla chips were subsequently tested. The tests were funded by the industry but entirely independently conducted.

  3. A copy of the independent test results and the other information considered by the Agency is available on the Agency’s website at
    . Details of the methodology used can be found on the Genetic ID website at
    . Details of the methodology used by Genescan and their limits of detection can be found at

  4. The detection method used by Genescan, Genetic-ID and RSSL looks for specific sequences of introduced DNA. DNA itself is non-toxic and present in nearly all foods. The introduced DNA in GA21 and DBT418 produces very low levels of specific proteins. These proteins are highly degraded during the processing of maize into tortilla chips.

  5. The Food Standards Agency wrote to the British Retail Consortium about the use of non-approved GM ingredients in tortilla chips on 6 November 2000. The Agency issued a statement saying there was no health risk from unauthorised GM ingredients in tortilla chips on 14 November 2000.

  6. Current labelling laws require any product containing GM material (DNA or protein) to be labelled as containing GM ingredients although if the ingredient was obtained form a non-GM source, labelling is not required if the level of GM material in the ingredient is less than 1%.