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IP/03/1096

Brusels, 23 July 2003

GMOs: Commission publishes recommendations to ensure co-existence of GM and non-GM crops

Today the European Commission published guidelines for the development of strategies and best practices to ensure the co-existence of genetically modified (GM) crops with conventional and organic farming. They are intended to help Member States to develop workable measures for co-existence in conformity with EU legislation. The guidelines set out the general principles and the technical and procedural aspects to be taken into account, and provide a list of possible actions that could be tailored for implementation at national or regional or local level.

Commenting on the guidelines, Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries said: “We want to ensure that farmers are able to cultivate the types of agricultural crops they choose be it GM crops, conventional or organic crops. This is why we need measures to ensure their co-existence. What is an efficient and cost-effective best practice is specific to national and regional or local conditions. This makes an EU-wide “one-size-fits-all” approach unworkable. The recommendations are based on the latest available research results, and provide a sound basis on which Member States should build their approaches.”

Under the new rules on GMOs as adopted yesterday by the Council (see IP/03/1056) Member States have the possibility to take appropriate measures to avoid the unintended presence of GMOs in other products, while the Commission is asked to develop guidelines on the co-existence of genetically modified, conventional and organic crops.

The guidelines on co-existence complement the comprehensive regulatory framework that the European Union has set up for dealing with GMOs and food and feed produced from such organism. The EU will pursue its examination of new GMOs which in accordance with EU law can only be authorised for cultivation and/or marketing in the EU if they present no risk for human health or the environment. A number of GMOs were and are notified for authorisation and are being processed by the Commission and the Member States.

The Commission will carefully monitor the respect of EU legislation on GMOs. It will address any possible problem arising from diverging measures at Member State level that would not comply with EU legislation.

General principles of the Guidelines

Building on experience with existing segregation practices (e.g. in certified seed production), approaches to co-existence need to be developed in a transparent way, based on scientific evidence and in co-operation with all concerned. They should ensure an equitable balance between the interests of farmers of all production types. National strategies and best practices should refer to the legal labelling thresholds and purity standards for GM food, feed and seed.

Measures should be efficient and cost-effective, without going beyond what is necessary to comply with EU threshold levels for GMO labelling. They should be specific to different types of crop, since the probability of admixture varies greatly from one crop to another; while for some crops the probability is high (e.g. oil seed rape) for others the probability is fairly low (e.g. potatoes). In addition, local and regional aspects should be fully taken into account.

The need for strategies that ensure a fair balance between the interests of farmers of all types of production is underlined. Farmers should be able to choose the production type they prefer, without imposing the necessity to change already-established production patterns in the neighbourhood. As a general principle, during the phase of introduction of a new production type in a region, farmers who introduce the new production type should bear the responsibility of implementing the actions necessary to limit admixture. Finally, continuous monitoring and evaluation and the timely sharing of best practices are indicated as imperatives for improving measures over time.

Indicative catalogue of measures

The non-exhaustive list included in the guidelines indicates measures that Member States could adapt or use in various combinations and that become part of national co-existence strategies and best practices. They could include:

  • on-farm measures (such as isolation distances, buffer zones, pollen barriers such as hedgerows),

  • co-operation between neighbouring farms (such as information about sowing plans, use of crop varieties with differing flowering time),

    • monitoring and notification schemes,

    • training for farmers,

    • exchange of information,

    • advisory services.

The appropriate scale of measures for co-existence

Priority should be given to management measures applicable on farm level and in close co-operation with neighbouring farms depending on crop and product type (e.g. seed versus crop production). Measure of a regional dimension could be considered if they are proportioned and if sufficient levels of purity cannot be achieved by other means.

Why should Member States decide on co-existence measures and not the EU?

Following the adoption of EU legislation on traceability and labelling and GM food and feed Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs has been amended to allow for the possibility of measures for co-existence at Member State level. Many of the factors that determine what is efficient and cost-effective best practice are specific to national and regional characteristics and farming practices, which vary greatly from one Member State to another and within national territories themselves. A “one-size-fits-all” approach is therefore not appropriate.

Liability

Concerning the question of liability in the event of economic damage resulting from admixture, Member States are advised to examine their civil liability laws to find out whether existing national laws offer sufficient and equal possibilities in this regard. The type of approach to co-existence adopted by Member States may have an impact on the application of national liability rules. Farmers, seed suppliers and other operators should be fully informed about the liability criteria that apply in their country in the case of damage caused by admixture. In this context, Member States may also want to explore the feasibility and usefulness of adapting existing insurance schemes, or setting up new schemes.

In two years time the Commission will report to the Council and the European Parliament about experiences gained in the Member States and on the possible need for further steps to take.

What is co-existence?

The issue of co-existence refers to the ability of farmers to provide consumers with a choice between conventional, organic and GM products that comply with European labelling and purity standards. Co-existence is not about environmental or health risks because only GM crops that have been authorised as safe for the environment and for human health can be cultivated in the EU. Since different types of agricultural production are not naturally separated, suitable measures during cultivation, harvest, transport, storage and processing are needed in order to manage the possible accidental mixing (admixture) of GM and non-GM crops resulting from seed impurities, cross-pollination, volunteers(1) and harvesting-storage practices. Co-existence is concerned with the potential economic loss through the admixture of GM and non-GM crops which could lower their value, with identifying workable management measures to minimise admixture, and with the cost of these measures.

(1)seeds remaining in the soil after harvest and producing new plants in successive years


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