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Research  Increasing yields, tolerance to herbicides, modified contents
Field trials EU 381
USA 286, other countries
Approval EU: 4 (3 applications)
Canada, Japan, 7 other countries
Cultivation Canada, USA, Australia
Traits Tolerance to herbicides
Perspectives The EU aims to cultivate GM rapeseed.



Cultivation of rapeseed was for a long time not agriculturally attractive, as there were hardly any applications for the seed. Because of the level of erucic acid rapeseed oil tasted bitter. In addition, the glucosinolate caused digestive problems, so that rapeseed could not be used as feed. Cultivation of rapeseed only notably increased after the new varieties of rapeseed were developed that contained only very low levels of these components. Nowadays the double-null rapeseed, breed through modern, although not gene, technology, is widely grown. It is known in the USA as canola.

Rapeseed (Brassica napus) is grown worldwide in areas with mild winters and moderate climates. The main production countries are China, Canada, India, Germany, France, England and Australia. In 2007, 50 million tons of rapeseed seeds were harvested from a 30 million hectare acreage.



Various foodstuffs are produced either directly or indirectly from rapeseed:

  • rapeseed oil from the seeds is processed to cooking oil and is used mainly in margarines.
  • rapeseed honey contains the pollen taken up by bees when collecting the nectar. 
    Bee-transferred GM rapeseed genes – as well as all other genes – can be detected in honey.

By-products of oil production:

  • oil cake remaining after pressing as animal feed

Energy crop, renewable primary product

Other types of rapeseed play a role when rapeseed is used as a renewable primary material for special oils, fats and other industrial chemicals. Besides rapeseed, other turnip rape varieties (oil turnip) are cultivated. The oil from turnip rape is also called rapeseed oil. It is used as:

  • biologically degradable oils and lubricants
  • a base for paints and varnish
  • softener and tensides

Energy crop

  • Biodiesel in Europe is made exclusively from rapeseed oil. In 2005 two thirds of Germany's rapeseed harvest went towards production of biodiesel.
  • Rapeseed oil can be used as fuel directly (in certain engines)


Gene technology: aims of research and development

Agronomic traits

Weed control

Resistance against pathogens

Resistance to pests

Adaptation to climate and location factors

  • Drought resistanc

Plant development

  • Male sterility; facilitating the breeding of hybrid variants (high-yield varieties); often in combination with herbicide resistance

  • Improved nitrogen utilisation

Quality traits

Modified composition of components

  • Enrichment with individual amino acids, in particular for optimising animal feed, and reduction of the bitter tasting sinapinic acid

Enrichment with health-promoting components such as:

  • beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A

  • increased levels of stanol and sterol (rapeseed oil with cholesterol-reducing effect)

  • increased proportion of long-chain fatty acids to prevent the need for hydrogenation of fluid oils for margarine production

  • A higher content of polyunsaturated fatty acids, thus increasing the value to health of rapeseed oil

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Through transfer of seaweed genes to rapeseed the seeds contain the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA that are mainly found in fatty fish. These are meant to possess a protective action against high blood pressure and certain degenerative diseases.

In Germany, the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) is funding combined projects such as Napus2000 (up to 2004) and OLeRa (since 2005) for research into rapeseed with a modified fatty acid composition and enriched in vitamin A.

Renewable primary products

  • In the USA, for several years a GM rapeseed variety has been grown that, because of an imported gene, can produce lauric acid, a component not normally present in rapeseed. This fatty acid is the basis for the production of tenside detergents. Rapeseed oil was meant to replace the currently preferred source coconut oil, but has also been used as cooking oil and in different foodstuffs. This project has now been stopped.

Production of pharmaceutically active substances

  • Molecular pharming: until now the use of genetically modified rapeseed to produce pharmaceuticals has only been investigated in an experimental framework.


Field trials with GM rapeseed

Applications 381
Countries France 116, Great Britain 106, Belgium 50, Germany 40, Sweden 40, The Netherlands 17

others in Denmark, Italy, Spain, Finland, Greece, Lithuania

Period 1990-2009
Traits Modified fatty acid composition, herbicide tolerance, male sterility, fungal resistance
USA 286
Period 1986-2010
other countries Canada, Argentina, China, New Zealand, Australia


Utilisation of GM rapeseed

Approval in the EU
  For cultivation As foodstuff/feed
Applications 2 3
Approval   4
Traits Tolerance to herbicides, male sterility
Approvals worldwide
  For cultivation As foodstuff/feed
Canada* 11 13
Japan 11 11
USA 9 10
Australia 6 7
China   7
Korea   6
Mexico   4
South Africa   4
Philippines   1
Traits Insect resistance, virus resistance
Listed are the different GM rapeseed lines (events)
EU No commercial cultivation
Canada 6.2 Mio. hectares (2009), ca. 95% of rapeseed under cultivation
other countries USA: 400,000 hectares (2007); 82% of rapeseed under cultivation

In Australia, the 4-year GMO moratorium has been lifted in two States in 2008. In these States GM rapeseed was cultivated in 2009 on 410,000 ha, in 2010 already on 133,330 ha (8.3 % of rapseed under cultivation).

Despite many approvals, there is currently no cultivation of GM rapeseed in Japan

* Among the approvals are five for new types of rapeseed plants, bred by other procedures. These rapeseed varieties are resistant to herbicides and have altered fatty acid content.
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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