archive image

European Commission

Food Quality and Safety in Europe banner

Food Quality and Safety in Europe



For consumers, the issue of genetically modified foods (GMOs) is about providing them with a choice. Either they can consume GMOs or they can opt for more conventional food types. Producers need to ensure that the transgenic varieties of such crops are neither crossed with, nor pose a threat to conventional crops. Whether through wind-borne pollination or through insect-derived cross-pollination, conventional crop integrity must be ensured by minimising the flow of genes from transgenic varieties.

Europe has allowed new and improved transgenic crops to be grown. This has led to increasing public and scientific concern regarding the potential and/ or perceived risks that GMOs might pose for the environment. The World Resource Institute (WRI) has recently stated that the formulation of strategies to prevent transgenic material from moving into the genomes of related species should be of the highest priority. In both Europe and the United States, the issue of transgenic containment is becoming increasingly important.


TransContainer is a European Commission-funded project, which is developing efficient and stable biological containment systems. It is facilitating the improvement and simplification of the rules for coexistence between the GM and the non-GM agriculture sectors in Europe.

The project's main objective is to develop stable, environmentally safe and commercially viable biological containment strategies for crops that are economically relevant to Europe. Over the last 15 years a number of strategies have been proposed for biological containment, most of which have been tested for effectiveness using model plant species. TransContainer aims to implement and test the most promising strategies, comprising three state-of-the-art biological containment technologies.

These technologies include chloroplast transformation systems, which were previously developed for crops such as tobacco and potato. The project is now extending the technique to oilseed, rape and sugar beet. Transcontainer also aims to implement controllable flowering technology on a large scale, to include important crops like sugar beet, red fescue, and perennial ryegrass, as well as trees such as birch and poplar. Transgenic transmission can also be controlled by way of pollen and controllable fertility by focussing on various methods of male sterility, which in addition to conferring pollen containment, also allow for the development of an effective hybrid breeding system.


The biosafety of the biologically contained GM plants is assessed in accordance with the risk assessment guidance of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Additional parameters for environmental risk assessment, based on containment technology, are being developed. The potential for these biologically contained GM plants to facilitate co-existence with non-genetically modified, sexually compatible plants is also being evaluated. In addition, the socioeconomic impacts of the biologically contained GM plants are being assessed using the 'Real Option Model'.

This model, which has been developed by the EU ECOGEN research project, estimates the 'maximum incremental social tolerable irreversible costs' for the usage of genetically modified plants. It takes into account reversible and irreversible costs and benefits for the private sector (technology providers, farmers, agro-food chain operators, occupational safety for farmers, investment in cultivation machinery, etc.) and the public sector (regulations, environment, biodiversity, etc.). With a view to biologically contained GM crops, the Real Option Model includes a second stage, the reversible and irreversible public and private costs and benefits related to compliance with co-existence requirements.

Containment can only be effective with the involvement of both stakeholders and the public. The projects results must be effectively communicated by enhancing the understanding and acceptance of biological containment strategies, and by increasing the potential of biologically contained crops for adoption by the European market. The results are disseminated via workshops, the project's website and through the production of a DVD.

List of Partners

  • Plant Research International (The Netherlands)
  • Wageningen (The Netherlands)
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeň (Sweden)
  • Research Institute for Vegetable Crops, Istituto Sperimentale per l'Orticoltura ISO, RIVC (Italy)
  • Vienna University, Campus Vienna Biocenter (Austria)
  • University of Milan (Italy)
  • National University of Ireland (Ireland)
  • CNR-IGV (Italy)
  • BVL (Germany)
  • UOP (Bulgaria)
  • SBC (The Netherlands)
  • SBC (The Netherlands)
  • DLF (Denmark)
Full title:
Developing efficient and stable biological containment systems for genetically modified plants.
Contract n░:
Project co-ordinator:
Ruud de Maagd, Plant Research International B.V.,
EC Scientific Officer:
Ciaran Mangan,
EU contribution:
€ 4.1M
Specific Targeted Research Project

Back to list

Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top