EU Science Hub


The number of genetically modified crops and the area cultivated with them are steadily increasing worldwide. In the EU, only one GM maize is currently cultivated but many other GMO crops are authorised for food and feed use. However, products derived from or containing GMOs are strictly controlled with a zero tolerance for unauthorised GMOs.

Authorisation is depending on a thorough risk assessment and on the availability of a validated method for detecting, identifying, and quantifying the GMO in food or feed. Biotech companies, who wish to bring their product to the market, need to submit an application for each GM launch. Part of the application dossier includes a very specific method of detection of each particular GMO.

The JRC is responsible for validating these methods through its European Union Reference Laboratory for GM Food and Feed. The currently used methods rely on certified reference materials (CRM) which are also produced by the JRC.

As part of its effort to ensure that the official control laboratories in all EU Member States have the same capacity to reliably detect, identify and quantify GMOs, the JRC not only validates, but also develops and optimises GMO testing methods, runs the European Network of GMO Laboratories (ENGL) and organises proficiency testing for control laboratories.

The JRC hosts two bureaux in the area of GMOs; the European GMO Socio-Economics Bureau (ESEB) to define indicators and methodologies to produce socio-economic assessments on the implications of the cultivation and use of GMOs, and the European Coexistence Bureau (ECoB), producing guidelines for EU farming on technical segregation measures to achieve coexistence between GM, conventional and organic agriculture.

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Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety – Genetically Modified Food and Feed

GMO method validation

Food and feed made from or containing GMOs can only be allowed on the EU market once the GMOs have received authorisation from the EU, following a procedure which includes a thorough risk assessment by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) based on a comprehensive authorisation dossier provided by the applicant, i.e. the GMO developer/owner.

The EU policy on GMO respects the consumer's right-to-know by ensuring clear labelling and traceability of GMOs. This requires reliable methods for their detection, identification and quantification (for authorised GMO) in food, feed, and the environment.

Reliability means that the methods must provide trustworthy data wherever and by whomever they are used.

Thresholds and labelling

In case of unavoidable "contamination" of non GM material with authorised GMOs, the critical threshold is 0.9%, i.e. if 0.9% or more of the ingredient (e.g. all the maize material in a compound feed) is GMO, the product needs to be labelled as "containing GMO", allowing the customer to decide. GMOs that are authorised elsewhere and are in the EU authorisation process may be present in feed with up to 0.1% of the ingredient. The validation of the relevant specific method therefore needs to confirm that the method is reliably able not only to detect and identify a GMO but also to correctly quantify it.

GMO analysis

Harmonised, reliable, cost-efficient, and fast GMO analysis is essential for implementing the EU policy on GMOs.

In the EU, GMO analysis is based on the detection of known DNA sequences (targets) that are characteristic for GMOs in raw materials (seed, plant tissue) or in food or feed products. To this end DNA is extracted from the sample to be tested for GMO presence and is run through a series of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) experiments to determine if the target DNA sequences, i.e. the target that characterise the GM insert and the related species, are present or not. For authorised GMOs, quantification is then done by comparing the amount of the GM-specific targets to the amount of the related species specific targets that are found.

GMO testing capacity building

Over the past decade the JRC has accumulated considerable expertise in GMO detection, identification and quantification. Since several years it is proactively spreading this knowledge to help build and harmonise global capacity for GMO detection. Training and capacity building activities help laboratories in third countries to apply the same methods for GMO detection, identification and quantification. Over the years a number of regional GMO laboratory networks have developed and cooperate with the JRC. This will allow GMO producing countries to control their exports with the same methods used in the EU for controlling imports.


The JRC runs several highly specialised databases and web-based tools facilitating work in bioinformatics analysis. At present, we apply bioinformatics to genetic data, i.e. to DNA sequences, for the detection, identification and quantification of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in plants. However, our expertise and the underlying infrastructure may also be applied to genetic information in other research areas like food fraud, medical diagnostics and environment.

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Certified Reference Materials for GMO analysis

For the implementation of the EU legislation that regulates the authorisation and the labelling of GMOs, the JRC develops, produces and distributes certified reference materials. These are used for the calibration or quality control of GMO quantification measurements.

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Reference materials for GMO analysis