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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



The EU must satisfy consumer demands that transgenic products be clearly and reliably labelled and controlled, but it must also comply with international trade laws. A major Integrated Project (IP) - Co-Extra which has 52 partners from 18 countries - has been set up to help accomplish this two-pronged task.


Following major discoveries in molecular biology during the 1970s, transgenic plants were first grown in 1984 and marketed in 1994. Large-scale cultivation began two years later. As the acreage of GMOs expands worldwide, transgenic products have been mostly accepted in the USA and some other countries, but not in Europe.

Although safety assessments have uncovered no adverse health effects, European public objections revolve around the uncertain long-term health and environmental effects of gene manipulation. Additionally, some consumer reluctance stems from a perceived lack of direct benefits. Whatever their opinions and attitudes, most consumers demand reliable labelling and coexistence regimes.

In 2004, in addition to the general traceability 'food law' (regulation 178/02/EC), tough new Union legislation (1829/03/EC and 1830/03/EC) on the labelling and traceability of GMOs entered into force. The rules mean that any food containing more than 0.9% EU-approved GMOs or 0.5% of EU-unapproved GMOs, but with a positive safety assessment, has to be clearly labelled as such. For the first time, the new regime also covers animal feed.

The new rules state that GMOs must be traceable throughout the entire production and distribution process. This obliges each stakeholder to inform any purchaser of the presence of GMOs. The EU-backed European Network of Genetically Modified Organisms Laboratories (ENGL) helps to provide the analytical tools of underwrite coexistence.


Co-Extra is studying and validating biological containment methods and model supply chain organisations. It will identify and share existing best practices and provide new tools and methods that can be integrated with existing ones as part of a broad decision-support system.

It will enable the tracing of transgenic products along the food and feed chains. The project will survey practices and legal regimes within and outside the Union. It will collect data on the costs and benefits of the implementation of traceability and coexistence systems.

The IP will study consumer attitudes and their propensity to buy transgenic products. It will create guidelines to help farmers choose cultivars and culture practices that will decrease cross-contamination. If admixtures do occur, there will be guidelines on the best ways to deal with them and determine liability. Co- Extra will exchange findings with all the stakeholders - producers, intermediaries, retailers and politicians.


The IP will produce innovative techniques and guidelines to overcome the limits of current methodologies, for example, for reliable multiplex PCR detection. It will develop and validate cost-effective, fit-for-purpose methods for sampling and detecting GMO. It will produce proposals for reliable, complete and cost-effective traceability information management throughout the food and feed chains, with a long-term goal of standardisation.

Co-Extra will assess the reliability of some bioconfinement methods in real conditions and the effects of culture practices on a large scale. It will develop mathematical models of pollen emission and long-distance dissemination. Generic and case-study-based models of supply chain organisations will take into account economic and other critical factors.

List of Partners

  • Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (France)
  • Federal Biological Research Centre for Agriculture and Forestry (Germany)
  • Centre Wallon de Recherches Agronomiques (Belgium)
  • Laboratoire de la Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes de Strasbourg (France)
  • The Danish Research Institute of Food Economics (Denmark)
  • The University of Sheffield (UK)
  • Joint Research Centre (EC, Italy/Belgium)
  • National Institute of Biology (Slovenia)
  • National Veterinary Institute (Norway)
  • AgroBioInstitute (Bulgaria)
  • RIKILT Institute of Food Safety (The Netherlands)
  • Genius Biotechnologie GmbH (Germany)
  • Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (Germany)
  • NIAB (UK)
  • Institut Scientifique de Santé Publique (Belgium)
  • Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (Belgium)
  • University of Applied Sciences of Weihenstephan (Germany)
  • Forschungsinstitut für Biologischen Landbau (Switzerland)
  • Hogeschool Gent (Belgium)
  • Centro de Investigacion en Economia y Desarrollo Agroalimentarios - UPCIRTA (Spain)
  • The University of Reading (UK)
  • Szkola Glowna Gospodarstwa Wiejskiego/Warsaw Agricultural University (Poland)
  • Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Spain)
  • Agricultural Research Centre - Gent (Belgium)
  • Biolytix AG (Switzerland)
  • GeneScan Analytics GmbH (Germany)
  • Central Science Laboratory. Defra (UK)
  • Matforsk (Norway)
  • Geves (France)
  • Eppendorf Array Technology (Belgium)
  • NHRF Institute of Biological Research & Biotechnology (Greece)
  • Vitalia Consulting (Spain)
  • Schuttelaar & Partners (The Netherlands)
  • CETIOM (France)
  • ARVALIS (France)
  • Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich (Switzerland)
  • Delley Samen und Pflanzen AG (Switzerland)
  • Agro-Projektmanagement (Switzerland)
  • Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science (Germany)
  • UMR CNRS Université Paris1 (France)
  • LGC Limited (UK)
  • University of Parma (Italy)
  • Istituto Superiore Di Sanita (Italy)
  • Agricultural Institute of Slovenia (Slovenia)
  • INRA Transfert (France)
  • Fraunhofer Gesellschaft zur Angewandten Forschung (Germany)
  • Centro Ricerche Produzioni Animali CRPA SpA (Italy)
  • ADRIANT (France)
  • BioEngineering RAS (Russia)
  • INTA (Argentina)
  • Tecpar (Brazil)
Full title:
GM and non-GM supply chains; their co-existence and traceability
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Yves Bertheau, INRA,
EC Scientific Officer:
Ciaran Mangan,
EU contribution:
€ 13M
Integrated Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top