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EC-sponsored Research on Safety of Genetically Modified Organisms - A Review of Results
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This website provides a comprehensive review of the results of EC-supported research into the safety of Genetically Modified Organisms.

It presents research carried out under successive EC Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development from 1985 (Biotechnology Action Programme) to 2000 (Fifth Framework Programme).


Philippe Busquin
EU Research Commissioner (1999-2004)

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

Programme Number of Projects
Fifth Framework Programme (1998-2000 only)
  Cell Factory Key Action 5
  Food, Nutrition and Health Key Action 5
Fourth Framework Programme (1994-1998)
  Biotechnology (II) 18
  Agriculture and Fisheries (FAIR) 2
  Standards, Measurement and Testing 1
  International Cooperation 5
Third Framework Programme (1990-1994)
  Biotechnology (I) 9
  Agriculture and Agro-Industry (AIR) 2
Second Framework Programme (1987-1991)
  Biotechnology (BRIDGE) 14
  Food-linked Agro-Industrial Research (FLAIR) 1
First Framework Programme (1984-1987)
  Biotechnology Action Programme (BAP) 19
TOTAL Number of Projects 81

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.

Research 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.

Figure: Relationship between GMO safety research,
regulation and practice: synergy and feedback


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.

In 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.

This review 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.

Philippe Busquin signature
Philippe Busquin
EU Research Commissioner

(1) The report is available at

The proceedings of the most recent international conference can be found at

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This review was edited by Mr Charles Kessler
and Mr Ioannis Economidis.
European Commission
Research DG
Rue de la Loi/Wetstraat 200
B-1049 Brussels

A printed version of the review (EUR 19884 - European Communities, 2001) may be obtained from the editors.

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