German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Analysis of the Safety Measures Applied in Deliberate Release of Genetically Modified Plants between 1998 and 2004


Risk assessment, GMO risk management

Research Code

202 67 440

Project Lifecycle

15 September 2003 – 26 November 2004 (published 2005)

Research Focus and Aims

In the past ten years, more than 1,500 experimental releases of genetically modified plants (GMPs) have been conducted in Germany. These are subject to approval under Germany's Genetic Engineering Act. The report, published as part of a series by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), analyses release practices and looks at trends in Germany's reporting obligations for the period 1999 to 2004. The report is thus a valuable source of information for individuals, associations and government agencies with an interest in agro-genetic engineering. The report also looks at whether the results of the operators' reports required during and following release give any answers as to the effectiveness of the applied safety measures.

Special focus was placed on the following questions:

  • Can the effectiveness of safety measures be assessed as regards their intended purpose?
  • Have the requirements for a standard format for interim and final reports put in place in 2000 had a positive effect on the ability to assess the effectiveness of safety measures?
  • Are there any indications as to a need for research on the effectiveness of the required safety measures?
  • Can further recommendations be made regarding optimised reporting?
  • Has the report evaluation produced any unusual/useful findings?
  • Can any conclusions be drawn and recommendations made on future implementation and enforcement and thus on requirements for 'good release practices'?


Changes in Release Practices

At 89 percent, rapeseed, sugar beet, maize and potatoes make up the major share of experimental releases approved during the period 1991 – 1998. During this time, 142 of the 159 releases conducted involved one or other of these four crops. A single release trial can take in multiple release sites and trial years. Around 40 percent of all approved release sites involve rapeseed, with sugar beet at 38 percent and maize and potatoes each at 10 percent. Together, these species make up around 98 percent of the sites approved in SNIF notifications or reported after approval was granted. Compared with the period 1993 to 1998, the greatest increase involved the number of experimental releases of potatoes (up from 7 to 10 percent). The number of experimental releases of maize is down from 13 to 10 percent. The range of GMOs released since 1999 has expanded to include apples, peas, soya, poplars, wine and wheat. This has resulted in greater research on genetically modified trees and shrubs in the open environment. In absolute terms, a downward trend has been observed in the number of experimental releases resulting from new approval applications between 1999 and 2002.

Conclusions on the Effectiveness of Safety Measures

The reports on experimental releases allow analysis of safety measures in only a few cases. These involve soil preparation following harvest and volunteer plant control after the experiment has been concluded. With most safety measures, an analysis of their effectiveness is only possible to an extent because the data provided in operators' reports is less than adequate. One reason is that the experimental releases primarily focus on agronomic factors and in most cases, data to prove the effectiveness of the respective safety measures is not collected. Inaccurate and incomplete data makes report evaluation all the more difficult.

Recommendations for Improved Reporting

Despite the marginal improvements in reporting procedures compared with the period 1993 to 1998, inaccuracies and irregularities are evident in the reports submitted. In the case of experimental releases approved under the simplified procedure, the data contained in the reports is often poorly presented and structured. There should be a standardised procedure for trials with genetically modified plants that are approved but never actually take place. Also, trial years in which no trials are conducted are treated differently in the reporting procedure. Clear requirements would serve to ensure that the exact period of follow-up controls and the associated reporting obligations can be identified for each experimental release site. The research project takes up these and other issues and provides useful recommendations for improved reporting obligations. It also provides recommendations for 'good release practices' which can serve in enhancing the process of experimental release.

Research Body

TÜV/Hannover/Sachsen Anhalt e.V.

Dr. Matthias Pohl (Project management and implementation)
Dr. Nicola Arndt (Project implementation)

Point of contact at BfN

Dr. Matthias Otto FG II 2.3

Final Report/Publication

BfN-Skripten 147 (in German)

Last Change: 05/07/2006