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Economic and Social Policies, PUBLICATIONS, Structural and Cohesion Policies

Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)

Copyright Nixx Photography, 2012. User under lisense from

Copyright Nixx Photography, 2012. User under lisense from

According to the Directive 2001/18/EC genetically modified organism (GMO) “means an organism, with the exception of human beings, in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination” (article 2.2). In Annex 1A, Directive also includes a list of processing techniques referred to in article 2.2.

The Glossary of Biotechnology for Food and Agriculture  (FAO, 2001) defines GMO “an organism that has been transformed by the insertion of one or more transgenes”. Transgene is “an isolated gene sequence used to transform an organism. Often, but not always, the transgene has been derived from a different species than that of the recipient”.

Cultivation of GMO in the European Union (EU) is authorised through a centralised EU system. The EU authorisation procedure aims at protecting health and environment, while ensuring the free movement of authorised GMO products in the EU. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) achieves the scientific safety assessment in collaboration with the national authorities.

See also: New grounds for banning GM crops / library briefing by Maria Terese Van Oel , July 2011 and Coexistence of genetically modified (GM) and non-GM crops in the European Union / library navigator by Maria Kollarova, November 2010.


The European Commission’s Directorate General for the Health and Consumers website provides information on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) including  the EU Register of authorised GMOs, the co-existence of GMOs with non-GM crops, the trans-boundary movement and reports & studies.

Guide de poche: cultures OGM et réglementation / Europabio, 2011. 68 p.
This guide provides information on crops, imported goods, regulations, challenges, controversies and farmers’ testimonies.

Governing risk in GM agriculture / Baram, Michael S. and Bourrier, Mathilde. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 276 p.
This e-book addresses the issues and methods involved in governing risks posed by GMO in agriculture. It examines the evolution of policies intended to ensure the safety of GMO crops and food products in the United States and Europe. Discussion encompasses the cultural, political and economic forces such as the influence of multinational companies.


La régulation des OGM en Wallonie et en Flandre / Yoan Lollo. Courrier hebdomadaire du CRISP 18/2012 (n° 2143), p. 5-47.
The article analyzes the situation and regulation of GMOs in Europe and in Belgium. The author focuses on the different evolution of the debate in Wallonia and in Flanders. The author compares the coexistence legislation in both regions and shows that Flanders and Wallonia have taken significantly different paths in biotechnology in general, and GM crops in particular. For now, these choices are only visible in the legislation.

International workshop on socio-economic impacts of genetically modified crops / Co-organised by the Joint Research Centre, the Institute for Prospective Technological Research and FAO (Seville on 23-24 November 2011). 134 P.
The workshop covered the following topics:

1. Adoption of GM crop varieties and socio-economic impacts on farmers.
2. Aggregated and global impacts of GM technology in agriculture.
3. Economics of segregation/coexistence of supply chains.
4. Socio economic impacts of GM crops: examples of use in decision-making.
5. Economic compensation, liability issues and institutional framework influencing adoption of GM crops.
6. Research on consumer attitudes, direct/indirect impacts of GM crops on consumers including health issues.
7. Looking forward: new GM crops in the pipeline and their possible economic and social impacts.

Adoption of GMHT crops: coexistence policy consequences in the European Union / Francisco J. Areal (et al.). Paper prepared for presentation at theEuropean Association of Agricultural Economists Congress, “Challenges for Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources”. Zurich, 30 August – 2 September 2011. 17 p.
This article examines the adoption of genetically modified herbicide tolerant (GMHT) crops in the European Union prior to its commercial release. The analysis includes economic and sociological factors. Results show that coexistence measures may hamper GMHT adoption in the EU.

Contested accountability claims and GMO Regulation in the European Union / Grace  Skogstad. Journal of Common Market Studies, July 2011 49 n° 4 p. 895-915.
This article investigates the EU’s regulation of GMOs to argue the potential for difficult-to-reconcile conflicts to arise between the internal accountability standards of Member State citizens and external accountability obligations to fellow WTO (World Trade Organization) members.

Sustainability of current GM crop cultivation: review of people, planet, profit effects of agricultural production of GM crops, based on the cases of soybean, maize and cotton / A.C. France (et al.). Wageningen UR, April 2011. 166 p.
The study shows that the current commercially produced GM crops can make a positive contribution to various ‘People, Planet and Profit’ components that were evaulated. The effect on sustainability depends on the built-in GM trait and the crop species, but the region, institutional environment and the degree of integration within good agricultural practice also have a major influence on the eventual effect on sustainability. These latter issues are not specific to GM crops and apply to agricultural systems and innovations in general.

Stakeholder views

Consumers’ views

Biotechnology. Special Eurobarometer 341 – 73.1. Conducted by TNS Opinion & Social on request of European Commission Survey co-ordinated by Directorate General Research, October 2010. 385 p.
The survey shows that, overall, Europeans do not see the benefits of GMO and consider these to be unsafe or even harmful. Europeans are not in favour of the development of genetically modified food. 

Consumer perception and GMOs in the European Union / Marco Valletta. Policy responses to societal concerns in food and agriculture: proceedings of an OECD workshop, 2010. 8 p.
Consumer perception toward GM foods is the result of different factors, such as their previous experiences with food products or by their exposure to mass media. It is clear that consumers have radically different perspectives from experts. Recent surveys show that the perception of EU consumers is still rather negative, despite showing a positive trend. 

The Common Agricultural Policy after 2013: public debate: summary report / Organised by the Directorate-Gerneral for the Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Commission, 2010. 37 p.
For the general public food should be healthy, natural (many say specifically that this means no GMOs or pesticides should be used) and produced in an environmentally friendly manner (concerning water, soil and air quality) and traceable. Many respondents mentioned that the CAP should not favour GM crops/products. Opposition to GMOs was evenly spread across the EU member states.

An evidence review of public attitudes to emerging food technologies / Brook Lyndhurst. Social Science Research Unit, Food Standards Agency. March 2009. 89 p. See section 3.1 Genetically modified foods. Pages 14 – 21. 
The article shows that the majority of UK consumers perceive GMO to be of medium risk, but due to a lack of perceived benefits, the risks still outweigh the benefits for most. Views are based on general attitudes and affective responses, rather than information about GM itself. Government and industry are the least trusted sources of information. 

NGO views

35 years and counting – cumulative delays in EU votes on GM crops / Europabio (The European Association for Bioindustries), July 2012. 2 p.
The European Commission has a legal obligation to hold Member State votes on GM crops, both for import and cultivation.  However, these votes are rarely held on time.  In fact, by adding up all the days that the votes are overdue, one quickly reaches at least 35 years. These delays are not a matter of safety – after all, the crops have already been reviewed by scientific experts.  This is purely political.

Top 10 GMO foods to avoid / Natural Society. July 2012.

Conflicts on the menu: a decade of industry influence at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) / Corporate Europe Observatory, February 2012. 48 p.
As the European Food Safety Authority celebrates its 10th anniversary, a new report from Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and Earth Open Source questions the independence of its advice. Conflicts on the menu: a decade of industry influence at the European Food Safety Authority highlights the agency’s reliance on industry data and industry-linked experts and calls for a complete overhaul of EFSA’s operations.

GM Soy: Sustainable? Responsible?. / Michael Antoniou (et al.). September 2010. 32 P.
This articles manifests that GM soy and the glyphosate herbicide it is engineered to tolerate are unsustainable from the point of view of farming, the environment, rural communities, animal and human health, and economies.

Producers’ views

French farmers challenge ban on GM maize. with Reuters, 30 March 2012.
French maize growers and seed companies have appealed a ban on the cultivation of a strain of genetically modified maize to the country’s highest court, saying it was unjustified and economically harmful for farmers.

Anti-GMO stance seen as hurting EU grain farmers. with Reuters, 20 February 2012.
European farmers are likely to fall behind in the competitive world grain market as EU consumer hostility to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) drives away research and prevents cultivation of high-yield and pest-resistant crops.

Farmer becomes disillusioned with GMOs, switches to non-GMO. The Organic & Non-GMO Report, July / August 2012.

Fourth-generation cotton farmer calls for non-GMO, organic agriculture. The Organic & Non-GMO Report, June 2011.


FAO Statistical Yearbook 2012. Part 4: Sustainability dimensions. Genetically modified crops / Adam Prakash (et al.). FAO, 2012. 41 p.

World areas sown to GMOs by country and World areas by crop (GMOs) / Directorate-Gerneral for the Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Commission. November 2011. 2 p.

Explaining the state of GM crops in the European Union / Europabio, February 2011. 2 p.

Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2011 / International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), 2011. 36 p.

Related legislative procedure(s)

Legislation in force

EU rules for the evaluation and authorisation of GMO for food and feed are set out in:

Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2003 on genetically modified food and feed. It provides a general framework for regulating genetically modified food and feed in the EU.

The Regulation is supplemented by Regulation (EC) No 1830/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2003 concerning the traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms and the traceability of food and feed products produced from genetically modified organisms and amending Directive 2001/18/EC which ensures traceability and labelling of GMOs placed on the market.

Directive 2001/18/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 March 2001 on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms and repealing Council Directive 90/220/EEC – Commission Declaration on the deliberate release of GMOs into the environment outlines the principles for, and regulates, experimental releases and the placing on the market of GMOs in the EU.

Commission Recommendation of 23 July 2003 on guidelines for the development of national strategies and best practices to ensure the coexistence of genetically modified crops with conventional and organic farming (notified under document number C(2003) 2624. To help prevent contamination of conventional crops by GM crops, the European Commission has drawn up guidelines on the co-existence of genetically modified, conventional and organic crops. 

Latest Commission proposal

The Commission carried out an evaluation of the GMO legislation between 2009 and early 2011 in order to review the existing legislation and the improvement of is implementation. Two different consultancies addressed GMO cultivation and GM food and feed aspects. The main goal of the exercise was to collect facts and opinions, particularly from stakeholders and competent authorities.

The Commission sets on 13 July 2010 a Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2001/18/EC.  According this proposal the Member States (MS) will be able to restrict or ban GMO cultivation on their territory.

The European Parliament legislative resolution of 5 July 2011 on the Commission proposal establishes the MS may rely on grounds related to environment or socio-economic impacts where those factors have not been addressed within the harmonised risk assessment or in case of persisting scientific uncertainty.

The Danish Presidency revised compromise proposal [7153/12] submitted on 2 March 2012 to the Council reaffirms the free choice of farmers on GMO cultivation and incorporates most of the amendments proposed by the European Parliament.

During the Environment Council meeting on 9 March 2012 a blocking minority of delegations opposed the proposal.

The Council concluded on 6 June 2012 [10883/1/12] that no political agreement on GMO cultivation can be reached at this stage.

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