GMO COMPASS - Information on genetically modified organisms
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Stakeholder input wanted: survey on research needs for assessing GMO impacts 

Shaping the Future of GMO Research

Stakeholder with interests in the risk and/or benefit assessment of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) are invited to take part in an online survey.

The aim of this survey is to identify which research needs should be prioritised, thereby contributing to the commissioning of research on the health, environment and economic impacts of GMOs.

The survey will close on 15th July 2015.

More information and access to the online survey

The setting-up of this website was financially supported by the European Union within the European Commission’s Sixth Framework Programme from 1 January 2005 until 28 February 2007.

The European Commission and other EU agencies are not responsible for the content.
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GMO Labelling

Detection Methods: Having to Draw a Blurry Line

A GMO – e.g. a transgenic plant – can only receive authorisation in the EU if customised tests exist to detect it.

Each authorised genetically modified plant requires its own test custom tailored to that specific GM plant (event), e.g. Bt11 maize, MON812 maize, or GR73 rapeseed.

The company submitting a GMO for approval is required to provide the necessary information needed develop a test specific to that particular GMO.

The EU’s Community Reference Laboratory: Standards for detection methods

The European Commission has set up the Community Reference Laboratory (CRL), which is responsible for reviewing detection procedures and subsequently putting forth standardised testing protocols for use throughout the EU. Other reference laboratories from various Member States also play a part in the process. All test methods that have been accepted or are currently being evaluated can be found on the CRL’s website.

Community Reference Laboratory: Validation of detection methods for GM food and feed.

Detecting GMOs almost always means using a technique called PCR. PCR involves three basic steps.

  • (1) Custom designed bits of DNA called primers chemically recognise and specifically match up only with the novel gene in a GMO.

  • (2) If primers find the target DNA sequence, a rapid chain reaction is triggered (PCR: polymerase chain reaction ). This chain reaction effectively copies the target fragment millions of times.

  • (3) With so many copies, this specific DNA fragment can now be detected. If the copied fragments are present, we know that the GMO of interest was in the sample.

GMO detection: Exact quantities cannot be determined

For a long time, only qualitative PCR tests were possible: they could only tell whether or not a sample contained the GMO. Quantitative tests that can tell how much of a GMO is present are a relatively recent development. Only after the development of these procedures did the verification of thresholds become possible.

The best techniques we have available today, however, are still prone to error.

  • A quantitative evaluation is only possible when enough DNA can be extracted from the item being tested. If there is not enough DNA, amplifying with PCR will not give useful results. This problem is often the case for soy lecithin. Although it is possible to isolate DNA from soy lecithin, there is not enough to find out how much of the lecithin was made from GMOs.

  • In some cases, quantitative tests can yield highly variable results. Extraction, mixing, and processing throw in variables that take away from the precision of the test. Even though detection methods are carefully standardised across Europe, different labs can come up with different results for the same test.

  • When products contain intact pieces of DNA, tests for GMO content can still be carried out. However, these fragments often get completely erased when a product is processed (due to pressure, heat, or chemicals). This is often the case for refined oils from soy or rapeseed. To be able to determine if GM raw materials were used, monitoring agencies are limited to conducting tests earlier on in production or investigating documentation accompanying the raw materials.


An EU Research Project

What are the risks of growing GM crops?

What are the benefits?

Numerous studies have addressed the potential impacts of genetically modified (GM) plants. Yet the existing evidence on the effects of GM plants is often contradictory and the quality of scientific research varies widely.

Therefore, the GRACE project will establish new tools for assessing the quality of existing studies and will conduct comprehensive reviews to identify health, environmental and socio-economic impacts of GM plants.

More information


GMO Soybeans & Sustainability

Less soil erosion and fuel consumption: herbicide tolerant soybeans are promoting sustainable cultivation methods.


Glyphosate in European agriculture

Interview with a farmer

Glyphosate containing herbicides are not only used in fields with GM crops. They also allow conventional farmers to sow directly into stubble fields without ploughing. Glyphosate has replaced mechanical weed control in many crops and has had an important impact on agricultural practices and crop yields in Europe over the past few decades.

European Glyphosate Task Force

December 15, 2005 [nach oben springen]

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