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Coexistence of Genetically Modified Crops with Conventional and Organic Agriculture in the European Union
1University of Siena, (email)
Citation Information: Global Jurist. Volume 11, Issue 2, ISSN (Online) 1934-2640, DOI: 10.2202/1934-2640.1393, December 2011
- Published Online:
The objective of the research is to analyse the way the European Union is addressing the issue of the coexistence between traditional, organic, and GM crops.
In the European Union no form of agriculture, whether conventional, organic, GM, should be excluded. Farmers are free to choose the production type they prefer, without being forced to change patterns already established in the area, and without spending more resources.
Today EU rules on genetically modified crops are very rigid; in particular, before starting a GM crops commercial cultivation, it is compulsory to obtain a specific European Commission authorisation (based on a safety risk assessment carried out by the European Food Safety Authority), and GM food and feed (threshold 0,9%) must be labeled (to inform consumers) and traced.
Coexistence is the weak point of the European legislation in the field. The European Commission defines the term coexistence as the farmers’ ability to make a practical choice between conventional, organic and GM-crop production, in compliance with the legal obligations for labeling and/or purity standards. In simple terms, coexistence is a way of allowing farmers to choose between the three agricultural systems. Farmers’ choice to grow GM or non-GM crops depends not only on technical aspects related to the productivity gains and agronomic benefits to be gained from adopting this technology, but also on consumers’ preferences. Particularly in Europe, consumers continue to be concerned about the potentially adverse implications of widespread GM crop production for the environment and food safety. According to Directive 2001/18/EC (Article 26 bis), Member States may organise measures to avoid the unadventitious presence of GMOs in other non-GM products. In order to help the Member States to organise national coexistence measures, the European Commission adopted the Recommendation 2003/556/EC on the guidelines for the development of national strategies and best practices to ensure the coexistence of genetically modified crops with conventional and organic farming. The act establishes that the approaches to coexistence need to be developed in a transparent way, based on technical guidelines and in co-operation with all stakeholders concerned. The guidelines are based on experiences with existing segregation practices and, at the same time, they ensure an equitable balance between the interests of farmers of all production types. Further, they state that management measures to ensure coexistence should be efficient and cost-effective, without going beyond what is necessary to comply with EU threshold levels for GMO labeling. Today it is accepted that total isolation of GM material, certainly once agricultural biotechnology is widespread in the EU, is impossible; coexistence focuses on the practices used to decrease the adventitious GM presence. The implementation of coexistence measures is a complex process owing to the diversity in field, farming and natural conditions extending over Europe.
On 13 July 2010, the European Commission adopted a new coexistence package that consists of a coexistence Communication, a new Recommendation on co-existence of GM crops with conventional and/or organic crops, and a draft Regulation proposing a change to the GMO legislation. The new approach aims to achieve the right balance between maintaining an EU authorisation system and the freedom for Member States to decide on GMO cultivation in their territory. The new flexible European scenario will give to the Member States the possibility to decide whether to cultivate biotech crops, maintaining at the same time an EU wide science-based authorization system.