Co-Extra’s main objectives

At the strategic level,
  • to provide the different stakeholders of the food and feed chains with fit for purpose tools and methods allowing them to practically implement co-existence and traceability required by the current and forthcoming EC regulations and demanded by European consumers.
To achieve this goal, Co-Extra brings together the highest competences of the European Union and of some third countries on GMO detection and biological containment, supply chain organisation and economics, GMO-related legal societal and ethical aspects to address all of the issues raised by the foreseeable arrival of GMO-related products onto the European market.

At the scientific and technological level,
  • to achieve breakthroughs in the domains of biological containment, of horizontal (territory) and vertical (supply chain) organisation, of supply chain economics, of detection methods targeting EU approved and as-yet-unexamined GMOs, and of control and validation strategies
  • to integrate the results into users-friendly decision-support tools targeting all of the stakeholders involved in the food and feed chains.
At an industrial level,
  • to provide analytical methods, decision-support tools, position papers, and guidelines to all stakeholders and enforcement bodies to implement, monitor and control coexistence and traceability, from the technical as well as economic and legal points of view. These new skills along with knowledge on reliability of traceability systems existing in third countries are expected to improve European competitiveness. On the other hand, reinforced reliability of coexistence and traceability will allow worldwide consumers to make enlightened choices and by this way increase their confidence in EU products.
To achieve these objectives, the adopted approach has been to look first at critical points of different nature and identify existing gaps all along the supply chains including several third countries exporting towards the EU.
After this "state-of-the-art part", Co-Extra distinguishes the best practices, assesses the reliability of existing techniques as e.g. biological approaches of admixture mitigation, integrates them and whenever necessary develops new tools. It integrates the outcomes of related research programs and concerted actions, avoiding overlapping and duplication. In this case it can be considered as an extension of current European programs such as SIGMEA or of former programs such as QPCRGMOFOOD and GMOCHIPS and will take advantages of dissemination knowledge from e.g. FLAIR-FLOW. It also develops new tools such as sampling and detection methods to face the increasing number of GMO and technical issues such as the detection of unknown GMOs or stacked genes.

The scope of the project covers products released within the European Union as well as imports from third countries by both European consideration of them and collaboration and partnership with third countries teams.


The first critical point being considered concerns the seed and crop productions. The recent entered into force regulations will certainly lead to an increase in European GMO acreage while experience from third countries show that co-existence is very difficult to ensure in large areas. The development and validation of different approaches to manage (e.g. to minimise) gene flow like pollen traps or barriers, isolation distances, planting arrangements (e.g. different sowing dates) for achieving different flowering periods, use of crop varieties with different flowering time, and separate harvest of non-GM field margins are already included in the SIGMEA project and are not within the scope of Co-Extra. Co-Extra surveys and develops additional biological methods and tools preventing contamination of conventional or organic seeds and crops by species containing GMO components. This includes identification of biological characteristics, breeds and species likely to mitigate contamination as well as interactions with farming practices and environmental features.

The second point being addressed is the organisation of the supply chain in such a way to prevent admixture of GM and non-GM products throughout their processing. Based on the different case studies, Co-Extra models the different stages of the supply flow, then describes and assesses the different phenomena occurring at each step as well as their cumulative effect. In particular the territorial organisation is modelled to restrict the possible contaminations locations, while the socio-economic and legal implications are studied. The effect of imports in Europe and of third countries practices to segregate supply chains on admixture possibilities are also covered.


Traceability basically consists in ensuring the reliability of the information related to products all along the supply chains. Co-Extra intends to address both analytical and documentary traceability.
Regarding the first aspect, Co-Extra first establishes the state-of-art in the domain of onsite and laboratory GMO detection, assesses the tools, integrates them into systems, and finally benchmarks some selected systems in real conditions.

In parallel, the project designs and develops necessary tools that are currently missing. Indeed, although the new regulations take into account many of the problems encountered by the analysis laboratories by providing them with several detection tools, the expected facilities in GMO detection and quantification do not solve all the questions raised by the application of European regulations. For instance, the detection methods provided by the petitioners can use different reference genes to quantify the plant species (analytical translation of the labelling according the ingredient content of samples) whose compatibility is not ensured. Secondly, each company will provide the EU authorities with its own identification methods which will multiply the number and costs of analyses to be carried out. Thirdly, the currently used method, the quantitative real-time PCR, can not be implemented on site because of its cost and its requirement for high technology. Fourthly, it is obvious that GMO companies will not provide methods for detecting GMOs for these dossiers which have not been studied by the EC committees. Lastly, it is desirable to test existing methods – and design novel ones– to account for possible presence of unknown GMOs and to differentiate single events and their stacked counterpart(s). The analytical traceability part of Co-Extra is thus facing problems of integrating or developing cost-effective and fit for purpose detection methods as well as technical challenges.

To be efficient, the developed methods need to be assessed with regards to internationally recognised performance criteria including robustness, precision, sensitivity and accuracy, and associated with control plans made up of sampling procedures and frequency schedules.

The third aspect being considered regarding traceability is the structure and the content to provide information to ensure the greatest balance between reliability, compliance with regulations, response to consumer requirement, and cost-efficiency. Co-Extra identifies the kind of information to be provided (simplified or more developed for internal purposes, OECD's Unique Identifier, encoding, GMO content versus sampling and testing methods, identification of the producer, transforming companies…), the most appropriate carrier (paper, electronic means, etc.), and proposes harmonisation with other considerations (allergens, composition, existing traceability, etc.) in terms of information, form or structure. Cases studies of some third countries such as USA, Brazil and Argentina are made, also at the legal point of view.


The best tool is useless if it cannot take off from the laboratory because of its cost, the impossibility to integrate it with other systems, its irrelevance to new regulations or its inappropriateness to stakeholder requirements. Co-Extra therefore assesses each of the outcomes from the technical, economic, societal and legal points of view. Efforts are paid not only to the existing situation but also to foreseen evolution: foreseeable regulations, market trends and future scientific developments in e.g. GMO production. Outcomes of the work of SIGMEA on legal issues are directly taken into consideration.

Additionally, Co-Extra is designed to involve the different stakeholders at the very beginning of the project to ensure that the suitability of the technologies and processes developed by the project respond to their needs and that the current best practices are taken into consideration.

In parallel, the project also looks at the traceability systems implemented (or not) around the world with the triple purpose to ensure traceability of products imported from third countries, collects experiences outside the European Union and disseminates European outcomes and practices to prepare the ground for future worldwide standardisations.

Co-Extra’s main innovations
  • Novel approaches to meet the technical and economic challenges raised by the increasing number of GMOs, stacked genes, and unapproved and as-yet-unexamined GMOs to be detected. These approaches consists in reliable multiplex - more than duplex - quantitative PCR, finger printing and quantitative differential PCR
  • Position papers, guidelines for routine analysis, for detection of stacked genes and unapproved or as yet EC-unexamined GMOs
  • Guidelines for validation of complex GMO detection methods such as those that combine different stages, for instance, PCR approach followed by hybridisation on microarrays.
  • Guidelines to reduce measurement uncertainty in quantitative GMO detection
  • Evidences supporting the suitability of the European modular approach for validation of GMO detection methods
  • Assessments in real conditions and at large scale of bio-confinement: cytoplasmic male sterility, cleistogamy, etc.
  • Mathematical models for prediction of pollen distribution and impact over large distances and fragmented landscapes.
  • Development and assessment of operational models of space and time organisations in the EU and third countries including economic factors of food and feed supply chains.
  • Analysis of all project results for the (future) development of initial decision support systems for stakeholders, from seed producers to manufacturers and retailers, consisting in expert system softwares and decision-trees.
  • Best practices for bio-confinement and supply chain organisation for admixture mitigation in the EU and third countries.