In Europe, the toxicological safety of genetically modified (GM) crops is routinely evaluated using rodent feeding trials, originally designed for testing oral toxicity of chemical compounds. We aimed to develop and optimize methods for advancing the use of zebrafish feeding trials for the safety evaluation of GM crops, using maize as a case study. In a first step, we evaluated the effect of different maize substitution levels. Our results demonstrate the need for preliminary testing to assess potential feed component-related effects on the overall nutritional balance. Next, since a potential effect of a GM crop should ideally be interpreted relative to the natural response variation (i.e., the range of biological values that is considered normal for a particular endpoint) in order to assess the toxicological relevance, we established natural response variation datasets for various zebrafish endpoints. We applied equivalence testing to calculate threshold equivalence limits (ELs) based on the natural response variation as a method for quantifying the range within which a GM crop and its control are considered equivalent. Finally, our results illustrate that the use of commercial control diets (CCDs) and null segregant (NS) controls (helpful for assessing potential effects of the transformation process) would be valuable additions to GM safety assessment strategies.
Keywords: feeding trial; food safety; genetically modified crops; zebrafish.