Sustainable Introduction of GMOs into the European Agriculture

    Project Details


    Main research question/goal
    In the SIGMEA project, more than 20 European research institutes work together to provide an interdisciplinary answer to the question, "Which minimum package of scientific information do the legislators need in order to be able to achieve a stepwise release of GMOs in Europe?" The three topics are environmental impact, detection capability and coexistence. Specifically, the project aims to work on (i) an inventory and analysis of European data on gene flow (i.e. the extent to which genes can be exchanged between different populations) and on the environmental impact of the main transgenic crops that will be grown in the future (corn, canola, sugar beet, rice and wheat), (ii) predictive models of gene flow in the landscape, (iii) technical feasibility and economic effects of coexistence in the main agricultural regions of Europe, (iv) new GMO detection methods, and (v) instruments for the legislator, the farmer and the public on (decision making about) the coexistence of GM with non-GM crops.

    Research approach
    We collect data of the most important programs on gene flow in a large number of countries throughout Europe. This represents a wide range of farming systems, including organic farming. All available information from former and current trials regarding cross-border pollination, volunteers, and wild relatives of the 22 SIGMEA partners will be collected in a database. To this end, a standard template or 'data entry format' is used, which allows us to check information, to retrieve missing information, to review data, and to apply a formal mechanism for the completion or removal of data sets. The data is made available for other users in the project through a secure web server. Seven regional case studies are carried out to design co-existence scenarios. We collect and analyse available European data on (a) the effects of gene flow and introgression on within-and between-species plant diversity and (b) the wider ecological implications of growing Bt-corn and HT rapeseed. We design predictive gene flow models at the level of the landscape. Finally, we evaluate the technical feasibility and economic relevance of coexistence in the main agricultural regions of Europe.

    We expect the SIGMEA project to deliver a gold mine of controlled, reliable and applicable science data for Europe. This project yields the first synthesis of experimental data on gene flow. The gaps in available data are completed by performing further evaluations especially at landscape level or over several years by planing successive crops. Corn and canola are the main crops, followed by beets, rice and wheat. The available data sets concerning coexistence measures for corn, rapeseed and beets are also collated and evaluated. The extensive knowledge of gene flow in maize, oilseed rape and beet allow us to set up practical strategies for coexistence in these crops. The environmental impact of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn and HT (herbicide tolerant) rapeseed in European crops are described. The economic consequences and the costs of coexistence are estimated in the various European agriculture situations and scenarios. Through various tools (for example, a simulator of agricultural landscapes) an assessment of the possible consequences of co-existence becomes possible. Such tools also lead to a framework for designing multi-criteria decision support systems. Finally, new on-site methods for the detection of GMOs are made available.
    Effective start/end date1/01/0431/12/08