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Can systematic reviews inform GMO risk assessment and management?

The scientific literature assessing possible impacts of GMOs on human and animal health and the environment is sometimes characterised by mixed results and conclusions, compounded by the complexity and diversity of test designs and the multitude of endpoints under investigation. In addition, the absence of tangible assessment criteria can hinder a clear and straightforward judgment about the validity and relevance of the information for GMO risk assessment and risk management. Furthermore, literature reviews summarising the available evidence vary considerably in how they are conducted and if they do not follow an a priori defined and documented procedure that employs explicit means to identify, critically appraise, and evaluate studies, they are usually referred to as “traditional” or “narrative” reviews.

In this current GRACE publication in the scientific journal frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, the authors consider the added value systematic reviews can provide when summarising primary research data and discuss their adequacy and feasibility for collating and analysing data on potential impacts of GMOs, in order to inform specific steps within GMO risk assessment and risk management.

Systematic reviews are based on a highly standardised and reproducible methodology in order to identify, collect, synthesise and evaluate primary research data pertinent to specific research questions and are frequently applied e.g. in medical sciences to support regulatory decision-making processes. It has to be stressed that systematic reviews are not without limitations as they can be demanding on resources such as time, money, and manpower, and may not be worthwhile if the availability and robustness of primary research data are limited.  The authors conclude that by increasing precision and transparency, minimising bias, facilitating stakeholder involvement, and clarifying uncertainty, systematic reviews can provide robust quantitative and/or qualitative answers to specific scientific questions in a format compatible with the demands of GMO risk assessment and risk management. However, due to the above-mentioned limitations, the appropriateness of systematic reviews might be heavily dependent on the specific topic and question under assessment and a decision for or against their performance would have to be made on a case-by-case basis. A potential major limitation restricting the use of systematic reviews is the availability of primary research data, as most of the information to be provided in the approval process for GMOs is focused on a specific event.

Apart from their possible application during the regulatory approval process, systematic reviews may also help in some cases to clarify possible uncertainties about GMO impacts that are the subject of controversy within the scientific community.

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GRACE Final Conference

  • 9-10 November 2015 (Potsdam, Germany)

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GRACE Stakeholder Workshops on Draft Results, Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Use of Evidence Synthesis in GMO Impact Assessment
    5-6 October 2015
    (Vienna, Austria)
  • Feeding and Alternative Studies on GM Maize
    7-8 October 2015
    (Vienna, Austria)

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