Brussels, 06 Apr 2006
Following statements and reports from lobbying groups on both sides of the genetically modified organism (GMO) coexistence debate, there was an opportunity for politicians to air their views at a conference in Vienna on 5 April.
The two EU Commissioners present, Mariann Fischer Boel (agriculture and rural development) and Stavros Dimas (environment) emphasised that the debate is not about safety, but about choice, seeing as all GM seeds licensed for sowing in the EU have already undergone a rigorous safety assessment. Both also reiterated the Commission's view that it is not currently appropriate for the Commission to propose EU-wide coexistence rules.
'With regard to segregation methods, technical experience has not advanced far enough. It is conceivable that, at some stage, we would know enough to suggest some basic common rules. But that stage is not yet at hand,' said Ms Fischer Boel. Instead, Member States should continue to introduce measures at national level, she said.
However, Austria's Agriculture Minister, Josef Pröll, argued national measures are not always enough, and called for cross-border coexistence solutions.
Mr Dimas suggested that improving risk assessment would be the best way to increase confidence in coexistence. 'Despite the fact that the new regulatory framework provides a sound foundation for risk assessment, we should make sure that the scientific input into that risk assessment is of the highest possible quality. Risk assessment procedures should, therefore, be fine-tuned to the extent necessary,' he said.
While Ms Fischer Boel noted in her speech that 'GM farming has arrived, and we must have the administrative tools to handle all aspects of it,', Mr Dimas noted that GMOs have more opponents than friends in the EU, and that consumer demand is unlikely to increase due to a low level of acceptance. He called therefore for Europe to continue focusing on improving organic and conventional crops, using biological techniques such as marker-assisted-selection, which does not involve any genetic engineering.
'We should not ignore the use of 'upgraded' conventional varieties as an alternative to GM crops, particularly where similar characteristics can be introduced without genetic medication. We also cannot ignore that the need for coexistence measures would become largely redundant if such varieties predominated in agricultural production systems.'
Ms Fischer Boel also spoke of a need for more research, but specifically in the area of coexistence. She said that while the Commission is taking a 'hands-off' approach in legal terms to coexistence, she and her colleagues would be giving the Member States practical support for their coexistence efforts. This support will include the funding of research activities that fill current knowledge gaps on coexistence, and getting the most out of current research.