Genetic modification, also known as "genetic engineering¿ or ¿recombinant-DNA technology¿ was first applied in the 1970¿s. As an application of modern biotechnology, this technique allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species. It is therefore one of the methods to introduce novel traits or characteristics into micro-organisms, plants and animals. The products obtained from this technology are commonly called "Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are officially defined in the EU legislation as "organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating or natural recombination".
The most common types of GMOs that have been developed and commercialised so far are genetically modified crop plant species, such as genetically modified maize, soybean, oilseed rape and cotton varieties. Such varieties have, in the main, been genetically modified to provide resistance to certain insect pests and/or tolerance to herbicides.
The application of this technology is strictly regulated and the European Union has established an extensive legal framework on GMOs since the early 1990s.
This specific legislation has two main objectives:
- To protect health and the environment : a genetically modified organism (GMO) or a food product derived from a GMO can only be put on the market in the EU after it has been authorised on the basis of a detailed EU procedure based on a scientific assessment of the risks to health and the environment.
- To ensure the free movement of safe and healthy genetically modified products in the European Union: once authorised on the basis of the strict EU GMO authorisation procedure, genetically modified products can be placed on the whole EU market.
The entire corpus of European GMO legislation has been amended between 2000 and 2003, leading to the creation of a whole updated EU legal framework on GMOs as of 2003.