Brussels, 06 Mar 2003
The European Commission has announced that it will draw up guidelines on how to address the issue of coexistence of genetically modified (GM), conventional, and organic crops.
The pledge follows a Commission policy discussion on the subject on 5 March, which addressed the concept, work carried out so far, potential farm management measures, liability issues and policy options.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Commission said that these discussions would serve as the basis for a stakeholder debate on the issue on 24 April, and that guidelines for addressing the issue would be produced shortly afterwards.
According to the same statement, the issue of coexistence has its origin in the principle that farmers should be able to cultivate the crops of their choice, a freedom that is threatened by the accidental contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) of non-GM crops, and vice versa.
'Coexistence raises questions which have to be addressed,' said Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries. 'Let there be no mistake: coexistence is about economic and legal questions, not about risks or food safety, because only authorised GMOs can be cultivated in the EU,' he added.
The most obvious example of income being lost through the adventitious mixing (admixture) of GM and non-GM crops is that of the conventional or organic farmer having to sell products at a lower price due to the presence of GMOs above the authorised threshold level. However, GM crops with specific properties could equally lose their value if contaminated by non-GM crops without such properties.
Farm management measures that the Commission will consider include the introduction of isolation distances between fields, pollen barriers, and crop rotation and planting arrangements for different flowering periods. On the issue of GM-free zones, the Commission states that such arrangements could be agreed on a local level, but excludes the possibility of GM-free Member States, saying that such measures would seek to limit fundamental liberties and run counter to the very principle of coexistence.
There have been calls for liability and compensation issues connected to cases of admixture to be regulated at EU level. The Commission's response was that before any move in such a direction, the first step should be to ascertain whether or not existing national laws are able to deal with such cases.
Mr Fischler described how the Commission intended to proceed with the issue: 'The next step will be to extensively discuss the different options with Member States and stakeholders. Then the Commission will quickly bring forward guidelines,' he said.
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