First Global Conference on GMO Analysis held in Como

Approximately six hundred participants from over seventy countries attended the “First Global Conference on GMO Analysis”. Held at Villa Erba in Como, Italy from 24 through 27 June 2008, the conference was organised by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission.

Villa Erba in Como: venue of "The First Global Conference on GMO Analysis" - in the neighbourhood of George Clooney's villa
Villa Erba in Como: venue of "The First Global Conference on GMO Analysis" - in the neighbourhood of George Clooney's villa
Legally – and, therefore, analytically – it is necessary within the EU food and feed market to discriminate between authorised and unauthorised GMOs, as well as to quantify legal GMOs in order to ensure proper labelling. With regard to these requirements, the conference addressed the science and technology that underpins GMO control and analysis. Topics included sampling, analytical tools, consistency of tests results, result interpretation and harmonisation of test standards.

Contributions to the conference illuminated existing fronts: while some participants discussed the ways in which analysis  for GMOs may be made more accurate and reliable, others proposed faster and easier tests in order to circumvent trade hindrances.

Progress towards the solution of this conflict may be expected from the EU research project known as Co-Extra, the work of which was presented at the conference. With the help of statistical and software tools, researchers are optimising sampling plans for seeds, grains, ingredients and final food products. Further, sampling challenges may be met most efficiently by the establishment of optimised protocols that are standard throughout the EU.

In addition to maximising precision and certainty, such plans also are aimed towards the reduction of cost and effort. New technologies include screening procedures with which many various genetic sequences may be verified simultaneously. More than thirty distinct GMOs may be placed on the test surface of a micro-array that is only a few square centimetres in size. Such methods have attracted particular attention due to their potential to identify and characterise unauthorised GMOs. 

The screening of samples according to a method known since 1999 as the ‘matrix approach’ may provide a list of candidate GMOs to be found. The approach tests simultaneously for the presence of a large number of possible DNA fragments and compares the resulting combinations to a database of known GMOs. This ‘matrix’ also may facilitate identification of samples that contain unauthorised or even unknown GM material and may be extended by the inclusion of a screening micro-array that permits the detection of several thousand genetic elements.

Co-Extra scientists also pointed out the widely-hidden benefits of such GMO controls in several other detection areas relevant to pathogens, mycotoxins and allergen-producing organisms. Conference conclusions therefore include that the cost-benefits analyses of labelling GMO products is largely positive for both companies and consumers, due to the contribution of better safety for all supply chains.

Sources: Co-Extra / Süddeutsche Zeitung (9 July 2008)