London, Nov 16 (UNI) Genetically modified (GM) plants which produce essential omega-3 fish oils could be the only way to ensure people get enough of these nutrients.
According to a major EU-funded study, the plants, which would be used as feed for farm animals, could increase omega-3 in human diets without adding pressure on rapidly declining fish stocks.
Scientists have inserted alga l genes into oilseed rape, commonly used in animal feed.
Fatty acids are normally created by marine algae and passed into the human food chain through fish.
Long-chain fatty acids called EPA and DHA, found mainly in oily fish such as tuna, salmon and mackerel, can give protection against cardiovascular diseases and slow mental decline in elderly people and are essential for the healthy development of a baby's brain in the womb.
Experts recommend that we eat about 450 mg of omega-3 oils every day, but most adults manage barely half that amount. Among teenagers, the figure drops to just 100 mg a day.
''We have achieved the target for a 200 g portion of meat to contain 300 mg of EPA and DPA together,'' the Gaurdian quoted Ian Givens, Lipgene scientists at the University of Reading as saying.
Johnathan Napier, of Rothamsted Research Institute in Hertfordshire, said that the only sustainable way to increase omega-3 in people's diets was to turn to GM technology.
EPA and DHA are normally made by microscopic marine algae which are then eaten by small fish, passing the fatty acids into the food chain.
The GM plants can be used as feed for chickens or other animals and the fields of GM crops for animal feed could be grown within five years, he stated.
Environmentalists would need to consider the sustainability aspect. ''If we're reducing the pressure on natural fish stocks, it has to be a benefit and we should come up with a positive solution,'' he added.
The scientists said that concerns among the public about GM crops would need to be addressed in a much stronger manner.