Recent decades have seen massive growth in our knowledge in Life Sciences. This presents many new opportunities for applications, some of them raising issues for public policy and/or public interest and concern. European Community policy since the start of its Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development has been to accompany Life Sciences research with research on safety aspects of the new technology generated.
Of particular importance in this context is the use of Genetically Modified Organisms outside contained facilities. Consequently, GMO safety research has been supported in successive Framework Programmes from 1985 to the present day. The pattern of development of this support is illustrated in the table below, which shows that over this 15-year period 81 projects have been supported. These projects have involved over 400 teams from many different disciplines and represent a combined Community financial contribution of about €70 million. Summaries of all these projects are contained in this review.
Table: History of EC-Supported GMO Safety Projects
In today's debate on the use of GM technology in agriculture, food and the environment, it is sometimes suggested that we lack knowledge on possible impacts and how to handle them. The primary objective of this review is to demonstrate how the EC has tackled this need; to show that it has made a sustained effort, building up a sizeable community of researchers and contributing to the world's fast-accumulating knowledge and experience in the field. The second objective is to communicate these results, including an inventory of the research groups that generated them. In this field it is particularly important that scientists in different countries know who else is working on their topic, so that they can collaborate to gain efficiency and added value.
results can resolve uncertainties and provide a sound basis for risk management
and science-based regulation (where necessary), through pre-normative
research, and lead to the establishment of best practice in a constantly
evolving way, as illustrated in the figure below. The overall result of
this tripartite system has, of course, to be communicated to all concerned,
particularly to the general public and to political groups, some of whom
have shown sustained and sometimes critical interest in the development
of GM technology and its applications in various sectors.
Particular features of the projects described here are that they are carried out on a joint basis by multinational consortia of scientists, and that their results are usually submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journals. In this respect they complement biosafety research carried out in national programmes and the testing work carried out in fulfilment of regulatory requirements.
support of, and in order to provide an input to, its research activities
on biosafety, the EC has participated in OECD committees, helped organise
a series of international conferences on biosafety research, and set up
a Task Force on Biotechnology Research with United States research agencies.
To canvass a wide range of opinions on GMO research in general and to
sharpen programme planning, a workshop entitled "GMO Research in
Perspective" was held in Brussels in September 1999(1).
Biosafety research over the past quarter-century has played a key role in accompanying the development and diffusion of modern biotechnology products and applications, in health care, agro-food and the environment. The benefits of the more precise methods are becoming clear, but as always with innovations, the precautionary approach demands that uncertainties and conjectural risks be addressed by corresponding research. The results of the research and growing practical experience, feeding into regulatory and risk management policies, have enabled these to be regularly adapted to facilitate safe innovation, thus contributing to the excellent safety record to date, and providing a basis for continuing public confidence in the technology and its products.
includes all EC-supported projects explicitly targeting GMO safety research;
it also includes a few others which may focus on some other subject but
which contain important elements of or implications for GMO safety research.
Projects have been grouped for convenience into eight thematically based
research areas, each with an introduction, providing an overview of the
results, trends and issues, written by a scientist prominent in the field.
Most reports have been written by project co-ordinators and are their
author's responsibility. In a few cases, especially among the earlier
projects, reports have been taken from earlier published material.
The report is available at