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Page last update: 25/12/2008

Agriculture, Guidelines: Council of Ministers seeks common ground over crop coexistence

EU farm ministers sought - at a recent meeting in Brussels - to reconcile Member States' views on the European Commission's proposed guidelines for the co-existence of genetically modified (GM), conventional and biological crops.

Member States accept in principle the notion of introducing a coexistence regimen in the European Union that will ensure that farmers - and, by extension, consumers - can choose whether they wish to plant GM, conventional or organic crops, while avoiding the risk of cross-contamination. However, the recent meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council illustrated that differences still remain over exactly what that means.

Austria and Luxembourg - among the most GM-sceptical Member States - led demands for a tough EU 'one-size-fits-all' framework to ensure that unintentional mixing does not occur. The United Kingdom and France called for a flexible system that allowed Member States to set the rules that best fitted local conditions. Another pivotal issue in the debate are differences over the threshold for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), i.e. what level of GMOs should seeds and other produce contain before they are classified as GM foods and labelled accordingly.

A question of choice
Released in the summer, the Commission's proposed guidelines - which are non-binding - lay out a framework of strategies and best practices but stress that it is up to each Member State, and even region, to decide which measures it adopts locally. This stems from a recognition that farming conditions vary widely across the EU.

A framework for coexistence agreed by Member States would represent the final piece in Europe's GMO jigsaw. With the new recommendations, the Commission seeks to buttress a legislative framework covering the labelling and planting of GMOs that was approved by the Council of Ministers Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler urged EU farm ministers to agree the guidelines in order to pave the way to the growing of GM crops in the Union.

The Commissioner is concerned that not doing so could open the way to further complaints by key trading partners, such as that filed by the United States and currently being investigated by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The Agriculture Council is due to resume the coexistence debate when it next convenes on 13-14 October.

Source: EU and external sources
More Information:
Council of Minister's newsroom
Commission press release


Last update: 25 December 2008 | Top