25 years of EU-funded GMO research

Genetic engineering per se is no more dangerous than other plant-breeding methods

Last week, the European Commission published a compendium of the results of EU-funded research projects on the use and risk assessment of GM crops. Fifty projects have been carried out over the past ten years with EU funding totalling EUR 200 million. The Commission concludes that genetic engineering per se does not entail any greater risks than conventional plant-breeding methods. The EU Commissioner for Research, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, sees the results as confirmation that GM crops could make a positive contribution to the improvement of agricultural production and global food security.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science: “GMOs potentially provide opportunities to reduce malnutrition, especially in lesser developed countries, as well as to increase yields and assist towards the adaptation of agriculture to climate change.”

The European Commission published an overview of the status of EU-funded biosafety research into genetically modified organisms ( GMOs) back in 2001. The new compendium follows on from this. In the past 25 years, the European Commission has funded a total of 130 research projects, involving 500 independent research groups. The funding from the EU alone amounted to EUR 300 million, not including any additional national subsidies.

The projects covered the following research areas:

  • Potential positive and negative environmental effects of GMOs in a European context, and sometimes also in other parts of the world, such as China and Latin America, including research into the effect of insect-resistant Bt plants on biodiversity.
  • Developing and applying new methods for assessing the safety of GMOs as food.
  • Developing new genetic engineering methods to produce renewable raw materials and for crop improvement, e.g. through new disease resistance or more efficient nitrogen utilisation.
  • Establishing new methods for controlling outcrossing of GMOs to conventional crops and for detecting GMOs in food and feed.

As well as highlighting the finding that GM plants have the same level of safety as conventionally bred plants, the Research Directorate General of the European Commission points out that genetic modifications are spreading to an increasing number of fields of application and that, as a result, genetic engineering is becoming a cornerstone of the economy in the 21st century. This is one of the reasons why the Directorate General is pursuing the concept of a ‘knowledge-based bioeconomy’, i.e. a more sustainable, resource-saving economy based on renewable raw materials. The research activities lead, the Commission claims, to concrete applications and products that are essential to society. In this connection, the Commission continues to see a need for broad-based public dialogue. It hopes that the published results will contribute to an informed, balanced assessment of the benefits and risks of genetic engineering.