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6-Regulation: EU co-existence meeting highlights divergent views

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TITLE:  Co-Existence Meeting Highlights Divergent Views
DATE:   April 2003

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Co-Existence Meeting Highlights Divergent Views

The EU has held an initial meeting to attempt to address the issue of co-
existence of GM and non-GM agriculture, with a view to defining
guidelines over the next few months. Opening the meeting, which focused
on maize and rapeseed, Franz Fischler, Member of the European Commission
responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, said
"Farmers and consumers alike are concerned about the freedom of choice of
different agricultural production systems. In my understanding, co-
existence means that no form of agriculture, GMO or non-GMO, should be
excluded in the EU in the future. Similarly, it is also linked to
consumer choice. Only if farmers are able to produce the different types
of crops in a sustainable way, will consumers have a real choice."

He said the EU's strategy on biotechnology underlines the importance of
working with stakeholders, and the importance of research results and the
necessity of basing any approach to co-existence on the best available
information as regards appropriate farm management measures. "By research
results I mean not only scientific data in the narrow sense relating, for
instance, to the sources and probabilities of gene flow," said Fischler.
"I also refer to the technical and agronomic possibilities and the cost
of implementing farm management measures, where necessary, for keeping
the admixture of GM and non-GM crops below certain threshold levels.
After all, what interests us most are practical measures to ensure co-
existence, and we want to achieve this in an efficient and cost-effective
way. At the end of the day, cost-benefit considerations will play an
important role in the introduction of GMOs in European agriculture." "Let
me remind you that only authorised GM crops, which have been found safe
for human or animal health and the environment, may be cultivated in the
EU. Therefore, the issue of co-existence relates only and exclusively to
the potential economic consequences resulting from the adventitious
mixture between GM and non-GM crops. Risks to the environment or health
have to be addressed in the GMO authorisation process," said Fischler.
"With economic consequences I mean the potential economic loss that
conventional or organic farmers could incur if they have to sell their
crops at a lower price because of adventitious presence of GMOs above the
authorised threshold level."

"But we should not forget that co-existence works both ways, " he argued.
"If a GM crop has specific qualities, admixture with non-GM crops could
have economic consequences for the GMO farmer. " 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
or reduce admixture, as well as their costs, he thought. The studies and
experiments carried out so far strongly suggest that farm management
measures for co-existence need to be crop-specific. Crops significantly
differ with respect to their potential for admixture, he argued./p>

"Apart from being crop-specific, there are, in my opinion, 3 other
factors that any approach to co-existence needs to take into account: *
It should consider regional differences in natural conditions, farm
structures and production patterns. * It should lead to an effective
solution within a reasonable time. * It should focus on crops for which
GM varieties are already approved or will be approved in the near future,
and for which there is a substantial probability of admixture."

"Coexistence is not a new concept. What we need is to agree on practical
allowances for traces of GM crops in other crops including organic
farming produce," says Simon Barber, Director of the Plant Biotechnology
Unit at EuropaBio. EuropaBio welcomes the holding by the Commission of a
stakeholders' discussion on co-existence but warns against using the
debate to further delay the implementation of existing EU legislation on
GMO's. "There is no question of the safety of these GM crops, they will
all have undergone rigorous health and environmental safety assessments
before they are authorised for growing by farmers. Co-existence is purely
about enabling choice in the marketplace," says Simon Barber.

The evidence from areas around the world where GM crops have been
commercially grown over the past seven years shows that both large and
small scale farmers have benefited from using these crops. While
providing clear evidence of economic and management benefits for the
growers, data also show environmental benefits - growing these crops
enables a more economically and environmentally sustainable agriculture.
European farmers should be allowed to choose the crops they wish to grow,
whether they are GM, traditional or organic so that the market can
continue to provide farmers, food and feed processors and consumers with
choice. "No form of agriculture should be excluded in the EU and no
sector of agricultural production should have the power of veto over
another," says Simon Barber. "The EU must guard against the calls for
zero tolerance or the setting of unrealistic allowances that result in
the exclusion of one crop type or farming practice to the detriment of

Green/EFA Members of Parliament and Green Members of the Austrian and the
German Parliaments have criticised the Round Table on "as a clear sign
that the Commission is dodging its political responsibility for
consumers' freedom of choice." "As with so many other previous meetings
organised by the European Commission, this round table seems primarily
geared towards paving the way for genetic engineering in European
agriculture. It is well established, especially for maize and oilseed
rape which are the two species today's workshop will focus on, that if GM
crops are grown on a large scale and without any precautionary measures,
then gene flow will occur between fields, farms and across landscapes,"
argued the groups in a statement. "But what we urgently need at this
stage of the debate on co-existence is not another round table to discuss
research results or labelling thresholds for GM contamination," argued
the groups. "What we need is a transparent and public dialogue on how we
are going to prevent GMOs from contaminating our conventional and organic
food, feed and seed. What we need is a political decision which prevents
GM contamination and which ensures freedom of choice - of consumers as
well as of farmers. " Commissioner Fischler's communication on the "Co-
existence of genetically modified, conventional and organic crops" argues
that the burden of co-existence measures, such as buffer zones or pollen
barriers, "should fall on the economic operators (farmers, seed
suppliers, etc.) who intend to gain a benefit from the specific
cultivation model they have chosen". This approach would turn the
"polluter pays" principle upside down.

Conventional and organic farmers producing for the vast majority of
European consumers who reject GM food would be responsible for the
prevention of GMO contamination, not the producers and users of GMOs. The
polluted instead of the polluter would end up having to pay and once
again the consumer would be the loser," the groups argued. "We urge the
Commission to revise its recent decision to leave the problem of co-
existence to the Member States and to content itself with co-ordinating
and advisory functions. The Commission needs to start working on
Community legislation which establishes or requires Member States to
establish measures which prevent GM contamination. Such legislation
should require producers and users of GMOs to take effective measures to
prevent the unintended presence of their GMOs in other products. This, in
fact, is what the European Parliament proposed back in July last year
when it adopted its amendments to the proposed Regulation on genetically
modified food and feed."