GM coexistence is about economic risks, not health or food safety, says Fischler

April 28, 2003

Brussels, 25 Apr 2003

The issue of coexistence relates exclusively to the potential economic consequences resulting from mixing genetically modified (GM) and organic crops, said Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, on 24 April.

Speaking at a roundtable on research results relating to the coexistence, Dr. Fischler reiterated to stakeholders that coexistence is not about the risks to the environment or health. With an effective GM authorisation process in place, only authorised GM crops, which have been found safe for human or animal health and the environment, may be cultivated in Europe, noted the Commissioner.

Also attending the roundtable, Philippe Busquin, Commissioner for Research, agreed that transforming the coexistence issue into a debate about the risks of GM agriculture makes no sense. 'We must concentrate on the economic risks [...] and recognise that coexistence is inevitable and essential to ensuring freedom of choice for both farmers and consumers,' he added.

Both Commissioners argued that such freedom of choice cannot be achieved in the current climate where conventional or organic farmers run the risk of incurring great economic loss if the adventitious presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) above the authorised threshold level is detected. Similarly, admixture with non-GM crops could also have economic consequences for the GMO farmer.

In order to address such issues, '[w]hat 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, ' said Dr Fischler.

According to scientific and technical studies and experiments carried out so far, coexistence for some crops can be easily ensured, while for others, a different farming approach would be necessary to better manage coexistence.

In addition to being crop specific, Dr Fischler pointed to other factors that would need to be taken into account when trying to manage coexistence, such as regional differences in natural conditions, farm structures and production patterns.

At the same time, focus should be placed 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: These include maize and oilseed rape. Dr Fischler also stressed that any approach to coexistence should be effectuated within a reasonable time frame.

In terms of policy making, Dr Fischler said that it was up to Members States to develop appropriate measures according to their national and regional conditions. '[They] could assess their individual needs and choose the policy scheme that suits them best subject to the general condition that the national measures do not contravene Community law.'

In response to calls to address the liability of genetic contamination at Community level, Dr Fischler reiterated the need to first 'find out whether the existing national laws do not already offer sufficient possibilities to seek compensation for potential economic loss in the advent of admixture.'

In the context of evaluating farming measures and scientific data, Dr Fischler pointed to the increasing number of activities already afoot in Member States. One such initiative is a report by the Danish Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries on a strategy for coexistence of GM, conventional and organic crops. Presented during the roundtable by Soren Mikkelsen from the Danish institute of agricultural sciences, the report identifies and evaluates the measures deemed necessary to ensure coexistence of GM production with non-GM crops.

While the report concludes that coexistence could be successfully implemented for some crops within current threshold values, it notes that there would be large variations between crops and individual farms in the expenses incurred in complying with these threshold values. The report also recommends introducing a compulsory course in the cultivation and handling of GM crops into a farmer's education.

Mr Mikkelsen announced that further discussions will take place in a European conference on coexistence on 13 and 14 November in Copenhagen.

Furthermore, in addition to taking on a coordinating and advisory function on the issue of coexistence, it is expected that the Commission will issue a set of guidelines on coexistence following the roundtable, by the end of the summer.

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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