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Content archived on 2024-05-29

GM and non-GM supply chains : their CO-EXistence and TRAceability

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Traceability of modified foods in the EU and beyond

A huge EU consortium joined forces to develop tools for managing the co-existence of genetically modified (GM) foods and conventional ones in the EU market. The traceability provided should be critical to consumer confidence.

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Our genes are what make us who we are. They code for proteins that affect everything from eye colour to disposition to the development of numerous disease. In recent years, combining genes from different organisms to improve or induce certain traits – resulting in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) – has become possible with the help of biotechnology and genetic engineering. Aside from GM products such as vaccines and medicines, one major area of activity has been GM foods. While GM foods offer promise to fight some of the world’s biggest problems, they also may pose as yet unknown risks. Whether designed to induce insect resistance, enhanced survival in cases of drought or to increase vitamin content, GM foods have not been met with enthusiasm on the part of European consumers. In fact, the EU and its consumers have essentially issued a de facto ban on GMOs and six Member States currently apply official safeguard clauses on GMO events. The EU will be lifting the ban making it necessary to put into place tools, methods and guidelines for dealing with the imminent arrival of large quantities of GMOs, as well as build consumer confidence in labelling claims. A large EU consortium initiated the ‘GM and non-GM supply chains: their co-existence and traceability’ (CO-EXTRA) project to develop a decision support system (DSS) for the entire food and feed chain, addressing not only technical aspects but legal and economic ones as well. Project activities included a focus on biological containment methods, GMO detection techniques and development of new methods for as yet unapproved or unexamined GMOs. At the same time, scientists sought to provide practical tools for traceability and harmonisation enabling the co-existence of GMOs with traditional foods. In the context of CO-EXTRA, co-existence of GM and non-GM foods was addressed for the first time with practical implementation tools. CO-EXTRA determined that EU scepticism regarding co-existence remains high. GM and non-GM crops will likely need to be separated by large distances to avoid cross-contamination. As such, the legal and technical definitions of such areas remain future areas of investigation.

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