round-table looks for common ground on GM crop ‘co-existence’
A recent expert roundtable
explored the scientific issues surrounding the ‘co-existence’
of genetically modified (GM), conventional and organic farming
systems and how to avoid unintentional mixing.
The European Commission recently hosted a round-table
of stakeholders from industry, civil society, consumer groups,
as well as policy-makers to discuss measures to facilitate
the sustainable co-existence of GM and non-GM crops.
“Managing co-existence between different agricultural
crops has been an issue for farmers for centuries,”
noted Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. “New genomics-based
technologies offer increasing potential for improving crops
in an environmentally friendly and consumer-oriented way.
Europe should not overlook this opportunity.”
Delegates at the roundtable examined the latest research results
and discussed various approaches to prevent unintentional
mixing. “What is needed now is an evaluation of the
existing scientific evidence related to the admixture of GM
and non-GM crops, and the technical and agronomic measures
to avoid (it),” said Agriculture Commissioner Franz
The large body of scientific evidence so far collected suggests
that co-existence for some crops can be easily ensured, while
others will require some modifications to farming techniques.
This implies that a crop-specific approach needs to be pursued.
Maize and oilseed rape are among the candidates for large-scale
cultivation in the EU and so scientists should focus on ensuring
the co-existence of these two GM crops, Mr Fischler noted.
Freedom of choice
Although the EU (apart from Spain) does not currently produce
GM crops commercially, the Commission believes that European
consumers and farmers should have the freedom to choose what
food they grow and eat.
“Co-existence is about ensuring that our farmers will
have the chance to choose whether they want to produce conventionally,
organically or using authorised GM crops,” explained
This raises questions of how to manage the unintentional,
or adventitious, mixing (known as admixing) of GM crops resulting
from seed impurities, cross-pollination and other forms of
Mr Fischler stressed that co-existence is not about health
or safety risks since the Union has a strict authorisation
process in place that ensures only safe GM crops can be grown.
It is about economic risks, he explains.
Admixing, when it occurs, can have severe economic consequences
for farmers. Conventional and organic farmers have to sell
their crops at cheaper prices if the adventitious presence
of GM crops rises above the authorised threshold. The same
holds for GM farmers.
“We must concentrate on the economic risks... and recognise
that coexistence is inevitable and essential to ensuring freedom
of choice for both farmers and consumers,” added Mr
Although Mr Fischler emphasised that it is the responsibility
of individual Member States to develop their own policy frameworks,
he said the Commission would be issuing a set of proposed
guidelines on co-existence by the end of the summer.
Source: EU sources
See the programme and speakers