Brussels, 14 February 2002
Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler has said that without clear segregation of GM (genetically-modified) and non-GM crops in Europe, the introduction of an EU-wide labelling system would be 'worthless.'
Speaking at the AGRIBEX food fair in Brussels on 13 February, Mr Fischler highlighted that research shows that the degree of segregation necessary varies considerably according to the crop in question. With potatoes for instance, co-existence does not present a real problem, whereas for maize, change in farming practices are needed to keep adventitious presence below the threshold stated in GMO draft regulations.
'The consumer must be free to choose between GM and non-GM products. In order to do so, we have to introduce an EU-wide labelling system. However, the labelling will be worthless if we do not manage to segregate GM and GM-free on the fields of European farmers,' stressed Mr Fischler.
For organic farming, the situation is particularly difficult, as consumers expect organic food to be completely free of GMOs but some face a higher likelihood of an adventitious presence of GMOs than conventional farms. Accidental contamination with GMOS is however lower on organic farms on account of the separate production and marketing channels already present for organic produce.
Mr Fischler called for a policy which protects farmers who grow conventional or organic crops from accidental GMO contamination.
'In the future, the conventional farms will have to follow the example of organic farming. Farms will have to segregate production and marketing chains, introduce minimum distances but also different sowing dates between GM and non-GM crop varieties,' he said.
Commissioner Fischler also took the opportunity to warn that Europe could be left behind on new technologies if emotion is allowed to guide decisions.
'Europe lacks a shared vision and a common objective regarding genetically modified organisms. Currently, our response to the challenges of GMOs is 'muddling through'. We have to stop making decisions on such a difficult issue as biotechnology on a purely emotional basis. It is high time that Europe finds a way to address questions such as: 'can we eat food that has been genetically modified?',' said the Commissioner.