DNA technology in modern plant breeding
Application of recombinant DNA-technology in modern plant breeding has resulted in the development of plants with improved agronomic properties. Food crops have been modified through the introduction of new agronomic traits or suppression of constituent genes, which code for disease or pest resistance, herbicide tolerance, or inhibition of ripening. In 1998 a total area of 27.8 x 106 hectare was planted with genetically modified plants, with 52% cultivated with herbicide resistant soy, 24% insect resistant corn, 9% herbicide resistant rape, 9% insect- and herbicide resistant cotton and 6% herbicide resistant corn.

The US and Canada versus Europe
In the US and Canada approximately 40 genetically modified food crops have been introduced on the market, while in Europe only 9 genetically modified crops have obtained approval.

Market introduction of genetically modified (GM) food 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 recombination is not possible.

Hazards of large-scale cultivation of transgenic plants and of chronic exposure of humans and animals to transgenic food are issues of intense debate.

Issues of genetically modified foods

  • Are current assessment strategies for GMOs adequate to establish their safety with respect to chronic exposure of humans and animals to respectively foods and feed products?
  • Are there specific issues related to the nature of the technology applied, which deserve attention with respect to the safety assessment of GMOs, like the use of antibiotic resistance marker genes?
  • Are current analytical and toxicological test methods of sufficient specificity and sensitivity to characterise hazards of newly expressed gene products, and to identify potential changes in the composition of GM-food crops as a result of genetic modification (so-called unintended effects)?
  • How can the safety testing of whole foods been improved and which alternative methods could be developed?
  • Which detection methods should be applied to detect genetically modified food crops and food ingredients and which thresholds should be established?
  • Are quality control systems based on administrative or other procedures sufficient in order to trace GM materials throughout the food chain?
  • Can supply systems be designed to guarantee "GMO-free" foods?
  • How can transparency in risk assessment and risk management be improved, and which are the criteria to develop a strategy for proper risk communication.