European Network on Safety Assessment of Genetically Modiefied Food Crops


Dr. H.J.P. Marvin & Dr. H.A. Kuiper (co-ordinator)
RIKILT, the Netherlands

Modern Biotechnology in plant breeding has opened new possibilities to improve the plants agronomic properties. Numerous examples can be given where crops have obtained improved performance through introduction of new agronomic traits or suppression of constituent genes, which code for disease or pest resistance, herbicide tolerance, or inhibition of ripening, the so called first generation GM-crops.

Market introduction of these GM-crops in Europe has given rise to broad public concern based upon unfamiliarity with the new molecular techniques applied and the fact that the genetic material of these food plants has been altered in a manner which in nature by way of reproduction or natural recommendation will not occur. Some consumers also have ethical concern about genetic modification.

In 2000 the project "European Network on the safety assessment of GM-food crops (ENTRANSFOOD)" was started. This project is funded by the European Commission through the 5th framework programme and will end mid 2003. The aims of this network are the following:

  • To identify key issues of the safety evaluation of GM-food crops, and to examine whether current research methods are adequate to characterise specific safety hazards
  • To co-ordinate ongoing research regarding safety testing of GM-crops in the frame work of the European research programme FP5
  • To design new (in-vitro) test methodologies for safety and nutritional evaluation of whole complex foods
  • To address the risk of gene transfer from GMOs to the gut microflora of human and animals
  • To examine new startegies for the detection of GM raw materials, processed products and food ingredients
  • To examine the fate of GM-raw materials and processed products through food production chains (tracking and tracing)
  • To develop a communication platform of producers of GMOs, scientists, retailers, regulatory authorities and consumer groups with the scope to improve safety assessment procedures, risk management strategies and risk communication.

ENTRANSFOOD consists of 65 participants from 13 EU countries. Five RTD projects dealing with i) safety testing of transgenic foods, ii) detection of unintended effects, iii) gene transfer and iv) traceability and quality assurance are involved amounting a total budget of 11.5 million .

The results obtained in the RTD projects are discussed with invited specialist in the ENTRANSFOOD working groups. Results from working groups are discussed with a broader audience (i.e. invited persons from academia, industry, regulatory organisations and consumer groups) in the so-called "Integrated Discussion Platform". In this way ENTRANSFOOD will produce review and position papers, evaluation documents and recommendations on the above mentioned subjects. Informing European stakeholders is an import issue of the project, hence much effort is allocated toward dissemination activities, such as Web site, flyers, press-releases and scientific papers.