Coexistence refers to the choice of consumers and farmers between conventional, organic and GM crop production, in compliance with the legal obligations for labelling defined in Community legislation. The possibility of adventitious presence of GM crops in non-GM crops cannot be excluded. Therefore, suitable measures are needed during cultivation, harvest, transport, storage and processing to ensure coexistence.
Coexistence pursues the aim to achieve a sufficient segregation between GM and non-GM production. Coexistence always refers to GMOs that have passed the very strict EU authorisation process, including comprehensive assessments of health-related or environmental risks. Therefore, environmental or health-related risks do not concern the formulation of coexistence rules.
Agriculture is an open process, which means that perfect segregation of the different agricultural production types is not possible in practice. Coexistence between GM and non-GM production requires specific segregation measures designed in a way that takes these limitations into account.
On 23 July 2003, the Commission adopted a Recommendation on guidelines for the development of national strategies and best practices, to help Member States develop national legislative or other strategies for coexistence.
In March 2006, the Commission published a report on the implementation of national coexistence measures together with a Commission staff working document. Following the organisation of the Vienna Conference on coexistence, the Council of Agricultural Ministers adopted conclusions on coexistence in May 2006. The Council conclusions provide a mandate for the future work on coexistence with, as the main request, the development of Community guidelines for crop-specific coexistence measures.
On 2 April 2009, the Commission issued a second report on coexistence, outlining the activities undertaken in response to the Council request and providing an update of the state of implementation of national coexistence measures.
These are the main conclusions:
- Member States have made significant progress in developing coexistence legislation during the last years.
- This development of the legislative framework has gone hand in hand with a moderate expansion of the cultivation of GM crops.
- At the present time there is no indication of the need to deviate from the subsidiarity-based approach on coexistence.
- The Commission will continue to develop recommendations for crop-specific technical segregation measures together with Member States and stakeholders.
National coexistence legislations
The competence to develop legislative or non-legislative approaches to coexistence lies with the Member States. Many Member States are in the process to develop national coexistence legislation, which is notified to the Commission in the context of Directive 98/34/EC.
By February 2009, 15 Member States have adopted specific legislation on coexistence (AT, BE, CZ, DE, DK, FR, HU, LT, LU, LV, NL, PT, RO, SE, and SK). In some of these Member States, the competence lies at regional level (AT, BE), and not all regions may be covered by the legislation in place. Draft legislation of three further Member States has been notified to the Commission.
As regards the possible violation of coexistence requirements, liability and compensation schemes help to protect the commercial interest of a farmer’s right whose crops are affected by the presence of GMOs. Whereas, those scheme lie in the competence of Member States, the Commission appointed a study on the Liability and Compensation Schemes for Damage Resulting from the Presence of Genetically Modified Organisms in Non-GM Crops. The study was finalised in 2007.
Network Group for the Exchange and Coordination of Information (COEX-NET)
The Commission administers the Network Group for the Exchange and Coordination of Information Concerning Coexistence of Genetically Modified, Conventional and Organic Crops (COEX-NET).
The aim of COEX-NET, which involves representatives from Member States' administrations in charge of co-existence, is to foster the exchange of information on results of scientific studies as well as on best practices developed within national strategies for coexistence among the Member States and the Commission.
European Coexistence Bureau (ECoB)
The Commission has set up the European Coexistence Bureau (ECoB), located at the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) of the Commission's Joint Research Centre.
The purpose of ECoB is to develop technical reference documents for best practices to achieve coexistence. The reference documents will be elaborated in Technical Working Groups composed of national experts, and will provide Member States with non-binding guidelines for technical coexistence measures. The work will proceed on a crop-by-crop basis, with the first Technical Working Group developing a reference document for maize crop cultivation. ECoB started its work in 2008.