Agriculture, regulation: Freedom of choice through coexistence
Crop coexistence has become an accepted tool for placing the choice of what kind of food to grow and consume firmly in the hands of farmers and consumers. This raises the question of whether coexistence regimens should be imposed at EU, national or regional levels? A Commission report and stakeholder conference explore the issue.
A Commission report released earlier this month suggested that the development of EU-wide legislation on the coexistence of different crops - conventional, organic and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) - was currently unjustified owing to the divergent conditions in different Member States.
"The development of efficient and cost-effective strategies to ensure coexistence is vital to ensure a practical choice between GM and non-GM produce for farmers and consumers. This is not a question of health or environmental protection, because no GMOs are allowed on the EU market unless they have been proved to be completely safe," said Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel.
Coexistence is essentially a question of choice. Its purpose is to give consumers the freedom to choose what kind of food they consume, and farmers the freedom to choose what kind of crops - conventional, organic or genetically modified - they grow. With GM crops on the verge of commercial cultivation in Europe, coexistence has become an issue of great importance.
"Growing conditions are very varied from country to country and experience with GM crops is still limited in Europe. It, therefore, does not seem appropriate to propose unified EU rules at this time."
Owing to what became known as a de facto moratorium on the cultivation of new GMOs in the EU between 1999 and 2003, experience of growing GM crops remains extremely limited in Europe. Spain is one of the few Member States that permits the commercial cultivation of a GM crop. GM maize cultivation amounted to 58 000 hectares in 2004, or about 12% of total Spanish maize cultivation. In other Member States, cultivation is limited to a few hundred hectares.
Side by side
The findings of the Commission's report are not set in stone and it has launched a public consultation to ascertain what kind of coexistence regimen the various stakeholders propose. As part of this process, an EU-supported conference in Vienna (AT) on 5 and 6 April will provide an ideal occasion for such a discussion.
The plenary session will cover the regulatory framework for GMOs in the EU and approaches to coexistence in Member States, as well as experiences with GMO cultivation and coexistence worldwide.
There will also be three parallel workshops on regional and national approaches to coexistence, segregation in farming and throughout the food chain, and consumer attitudes and market responses to GMOs.
Special Eurobarometer on Risk Issues and Food Safety
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)