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Maize (corn)



Research  Herbicide tolerance, drought tolerance, modified product quality
Field trials EU 895
USA about 7200, in 13 other countries
Approvals EU 17 (22 applications)
many in the USA and Japan and in 16 other countries
Cultivation EU, USA, Argentina, South Africa, Philippines among others
Traits Herbicide tolerance, insect resistance
Perspectives An increase in acreage cultivated with GM-maize is expected worldwide.



Originally a tropical plant, maize (corn; zea mays) is grown today worldwide even in regions with a moderate climate (in 2008, maize occupied 161 million hectares). The USA provides about 40% of the world production. Other important producing countries are China, Brazil, Mexico, India, Nigeria, Indonesia and Argentinia. According to the colour of the kernels, two types of maize are distinguished: yellow maize and white maize.



Maize, together with wheat and rice, is one of the world's most important food plants. In many southern countries, especially in central and southern America and Africa, maize plays a major role in nutrition. These countries have a wide variety of tradition maize products (e.g. tortillas, tacos).

Foodstuffs and ingredients:

Animal feed:

  • more than two thirds of the world's maize crop is used as animal feed (corn gluten, silage). In Germany in particular, maize is usually fed as silage. Here, the whole maize plant is chopped and fermented.

Energy crops, renewable primary products:

  • maize as a source of energy: used in biogas facilities to produce heat and electricity, also used to produce biofuels (bioethanol)
    There are new breeds of maize that have been optimised to yield a high biomass. Such plants are noticeably larger, but up to now these ''energy'' maize plants have not been genetically modified.
  • maize starch: used to produce "edible crockery"
  • de-kerneled cob granules: oil-binding granules, litter for small animals
  • maize plants: compostable packing material


Biotechnology: aims of research and development

Agronomic traits

Weed control

Resistance to pests

Adaptation to climate and location factors

  • Drought resistance
    Approval for cultivation of drought tolerant maize is at present being processed in the USA.

  • Tolerance to high salt and heavy metal levels in the soil

Plant development

  • male sterility to help in the breeding of high-yield varieties (hybrids); usually together with tolerance to herbicides

  • altered flowing time

Quality traits

Modified composition of components, use of maize as forage

  • increased oil content and thus increased energy yields

  • Enhanced proportion of the amino acids lysine and tryptophan as well as a reduction in the levels of the bitter-tasting sinapinic acid. An application for import and use as food and feed in the EU for a "high-lysine" maize (LY038-Maize) has been withdrawn.

  • Production of the enzyme phytase in maize corns
    Aim: To improve the utilisation by swine and poultry of phosphate in the fodder, reduction in the phosphate burden in liquid manure and dung

  • Raising the content of vitamin E

  • Spanish scientists developed a genetically modified maize with increased content of carotenoids, vitamin C and folic acid.

Renewable primary products, energy crops

Production of energy

  • Aim: better decomposition of maize starch and thus more efficiency in the production of bioethanol, making the current supplementation with a heat-stable alpha-amylase redundant. Approval for GM maize (3272-Maize) that can produce a heat-tolerant amylase is being processed in the EU.

Source of raw materials for industrial products

  • Formation of certain starches and increased starch content, to produce new types of plastics from maize.

Production of pharmaceutically active substances

  • Molecular pharming: utilisation of gene-modified maize as a system for producing technically and pharmaceutically useful enzymes


Field trials with GM maize

Applications 895
Countries France 280, Spain 296, Italy 98, Belgium 28, Hungary 27, Germany 33,
further in the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Great Britain, Greece, Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Sweden, Slovakia
Period 1992-2010
Traits Herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, modified contents, molecular pharming, altered flowing time, drought tolerance
USA ca. 7200
Period 1986-2010
other countries Argentina, Australia, Canada, Japan, Columbia, China, South Africa, Kenya, India, Cuba, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe


Utilisation of GM maize

Approvals in the EU
  For cultivation As foodstuff/feed
Applications 12 22
Approval 2 17
Traits Herbizidtoleranz, Insektenresistenz
Approvals worldwide
  For cultivation As foodstuff/feed
Japan 30 35
Canada* 35 26
Philippines 5 35
Corea 2 29
USA 27 29
Mexico   29
Taiwan   23
Australia   16
China   12
Brazil 11 11
Argentina 10 9
South Africa 4 9
Colombia 1 5
Russia   4
El Salvador   3
Switzerland   3
Egypt 1 1
Uruguay 2 2
Traits Insect resistance, virus resistance, high Lysin content, amylase producing
Listed are the different GM maize lines (Events).
EU Cultivation 2009:
Spain 76,057 ha, Portugal 5,094 ha, Romania 3,244, Poland 5,000 Slovakia 875 ha

In France in 2008 the cultivation of Bt-maize has been declared illegal. 2009 Germany stopped cultivation of Bt maize.

Cultivation 2010:
Czech Republic 4,680 ha

USA Cultivation of GM maize since 1997; 2010 on 30,6 million ha (86 per cent of the total cultivation area of maize).
other countries Argentina, South Africa, Canada, Philippines, Uruguay, Chile, Honduras. 2008 Brazil for the first time, 2010 on seven million ha.
Egypt 2009 on 1000 ha.
In Cuba, genetically modified maize is expected to be cultivated since 2008 (2009 on 6,000 hectares). However, there is no reliable information on this.
Trade The EU mostly covers its own requirements for maize. Maize, corn gluten (forage) and maize-containing foodstuffs are imported from the USA and Argentina.

* Among the approvals are five for new types of maize plants, bred by other procedures. These maize varieties are resistant to herbicides.
Such new types of plants require approval in Canada. In contrast, in the EU and the USA only genetically modified plants have to undergo the approval procedure, and not new breeds of plants produced, for example, by mutagenesis.

 GMO Database
GM Food and Feed: Authorization in the EU
GMO Database: Contains information on every GM plant that has been approved or is awaiting authorisation in the EU.
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