A decade of EU-funded GMO research

Scientific and technological innovation and a fundamental understanding of nature are among the major drivers of progress. The discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928 saved the lives of countless people battling with the number one cause of death in the last century – bacterial infections. Today’s advances in the treatment of human disease have been made possible by the discovery of the DNA double-helix structure by Watson and Crick in 1953. And the Green Revolution, a synonym for advances in the agricultural sciences and plant breeding, has saved millions of people from starvation.

To counterbalance the predicted increase in the world population to up to nine billion people by 2050, and the related implication of climate change, science has to develop technologies that increase yields and productivity in a sustainable way, while lowering the demand for fertilisers and pesticides, and adapting crops to match the effects of changes in the environment.

The main challenges for industry will be to increase resource efficiency, replace the use of finite resources by renewable ones, and develop more eco-efficient products and life cycles.

Biotechnology research can also contribute to the development of new techniques – such as the valorisation of biowaste in biorefineries for the production of biomass and bioenergy, and the development of macro- or micro-algae production plants for the same purpose – while exploiting emerging technologies such as synthetic biology in a safe and acceptable manner. Economic pressure in a globalised world, as well as experience with biotechnology in Europe, should encourage us to pursue the development and application of all available technologies without prejudice, while respecting fundamental safety and ethical principles.

This publication reviews the last ten years of research projects launched under the Framework Programmes for research, technological development and demonstration activities, focusing on safety aspects of GMOs but also taking account of developments in the field over time. More than EUR 200 million has been invested through the Framework Programmes since the year 2001, developing agricultural management techniques for co-existence, tools for detection in and analysis of food and feed, and methods for risk assessment of GMOs, thus responding to the need of farmers, consumers, industry and policymakers.