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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Food Safety Evaluation

Allergies: What's Behind Them?

One person in five believes they suffer from a food allergy. Medical surveys have shown, however, that only two percent of adults and five percent of children have a “real” allergy to a particular food. Misunderstandings about the meaning of allergies highlight the need for some clarification on this topic.

Real allergies are almost always triggered by large protein molecules. Proteins that are known to have the capacity to cause allergies are called allergens. When an allergic reaction occurs:

  • The immune system falsely identifies allergens as an ‘enemy’ substance and pumps antibodies into the bloodstream to combat these ‘invaders’.

  • These antibodies bind to the allergen and stimulate specialized immune cells to produce substances that cause inflammation.

  • The outcome is a typical allergic reaction. In extreme cases, it can result in life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

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Penuts, Eggs, Fish. Three of the most common food allergies in Europe.

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Kiwi allergy
The prevalence of kiwi allergies has been increasing in the last few decades. Recent studies have put kiwi among the top-ten food allergies.

The hit list of allergenic foods – and other things you should know

Food allergens are caused by food constituents or their breakdown products, additives, residues, or secondary compounds from associated microbes (fungi or bacteria). The allergen is taken up not only from the mucous membranes of the mouth and stomach, but also via the skin or by inhalation (e.g. dust from flour).

  • Only a handful of foods account for 90 percent of allergies. The most common food allergies in Europe are to peanuts, soy, cow’s milk, hens’ eggs, fish, tree nuts, shellfish, and celery. Food allergies are less common than allergies to pollen.

  • In theory, virtually all proteins hold the potential to cause allergies. The likelihood of this happening varies greatly, depending on the structure of the protein and the person involved. Oftentimes, certain people are genetically predisposed to being susceptible to allergies. Very few proteins found in food have been known to cause allergies.

  • An allergenic food may have several allergenic proteins. In soy, for example, fifteen allergenic proteins have been identified.

  • The same allergenic proteins can come from different sources. Apples and birch pollen contain almost identical allergens. Thus, people who are allergic to birch pollen should avoid eating apples (cross-reaction).

Allergies do not develop overnight

Every real allergy begins with a sensitisation phase. Upon contact with an allergen, a person’s immune system begins to change. It usually takes a relatively long period of contact with an allergen for a person to acquire sensitivity. This explains why the first kiwi allergies came up only years after kiwis first appeared on the market.

Once sensitisation and the changes in the immune system that accompany it have occurred, the slightest trace of the allergen can be enough to trigger an allergic reaction. Although scientists have a good understanding of how the allergic reaction itself develops, the reasons why someone develops sensitivity to an allergen remain unclear.

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Wheat: Celiac patients are intolerant of wheat gluten.

Pseudoallergies and food intolerances: Similar symptoms, different causes

A group of a sensitive reactions that resemble allergies but are based on different causes is known as pseudoallergies. Certain food additives, food components, or sulphur compounds (biogenic amine) are known to trigger allergy-like symptoms in susceptible individuals. These reactions, however, are not caused by immune defence, as no antibodies against the elicitors of these reactions can be found.

In the public realm, the distinction between real allergies and pseudoallergies is rarely made. "Allergy" is used as a general term for various allergy-like illnesses and reactions.

Food intolerances are yet another type of reaction to food. These are mostly the result of innate or acquired enzyme defects. These defects prevent the complete digestion of food components or the metabolic products thereof. This not only may cause digestive tract irritation, but can also lead to other problems such as metabolic disorders. Examples of food intolerances include lactose intolerance, celiac disease (wheat gluten), or phenylketonuria (phenylalanine/the sweetener aspartame).


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

January 10, 2006 [nach oben springen]

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