World Rainforest Movement

Belgium – WRM information sheet on GE tree research

 WRM information sheets on GE tree research

First posted: 1 August 2008
Updated: 15 August 2008, based on information from (1)
Updated: 23 January 2009, based on information from (2)
Updated: 16 March 2009, based on information from (3)
Updated: 6 May 2009, based on information from (4, 5)
Last update: August 2014


Tree species being manipulated:

  • poplar

Aim of genetic manipulation

  • modified lignin and cellulose content for easier ethanol production. The trees include an antibiotic genetic marker, used for introducing the desired gene (1)
  • herbicide resistance (in the first field trial in1988)

Legal status

  • Authorization for a field trial of VIB’s GM poplar was refused in May 2008 by the federal ministers. (1)
  • In October 2008 VIB asked for a permit in the Netherlands to implement its field trial there. (1)
  • Belgium’s Council of State suspended the refusal of VIB’s GM poplar field trial on December 23, 2008. For the field trial to be carried out, it still needed the nullification of the refusal. (1)
  • The Belgian federal government gave its approval to the field trial on March 2009. (1)
  • Field trial established on 6 May 2009. (1)
  • Results of this field trial published in December 2013 in a scientific article; it shows that the suppression of the lignin biosynthesis in the trees occurs but is variable, and that GE poplar trees appear to grow less rapid than non-GE poplars. The researchers suggest to carry out more research. (2)
  • A new field trial by VIB is announced to start in 2014. (2)
  • On October 2, 2013, the Belgian Biosafety Council gave a positive advice about the petition to carry out this new field trial, in spite of the fact that its advice was supported by only 3 of the 12 Council members. Two opinions of critical experts, as well as hundreds of protest letters, were not taken into consideration. A friend of the Belgian “Field Liberation Movement” in a letter dated October 15, 2013, demands from the responsible Ministers in Belgium a second round of advice about this request for another field trial and that additional research on potential impacts will be carried out before a decision is taken. (3)

Those carrying out the research:

  • Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB)

Involvement with foreign research partners

  • Belgian academics are collaborating with Southampton University researchers involved in GE poplars in the UK (4). The research team also includes academics from France (2,5)
  • This collaboration was transformed in a consortium called EnergyPoplar, including institutions from France, Sweden, Germany and Italy. (7)

Those who provide support to research:

  • Funded by Flemish government.
  • VIB received in 2008 1.6 million dollars from the American Global Climate and Energy Project, managed by Stanford University, for further research. (1)

Regulatory framework for research and field trials:

  •  The Belgian Biosafety Council needs to be consulted and needs to give a recommendation about the field trials. The final decision is taken by the Minister of Climate and Energy and the Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health (at Federal level) and the Minister for Energy, Environment and Nature at the regional level.

Field trials

  • First field trial established at Technologiepark de Zwijnaarde, near Gand. A total of 120 GE poplar trees, surrounded by non GE trees. (1, 6)
  • Second field trial proposed to happen in Wetteren (2); already the Belgian government gave its approval  but the decision is being questioned by civil society groups (3)

Organizations that have been opposing GE trees:


  1. and
  3. and  and