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
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.