GMOs: Commission addresses GM crop co-existence

March 6, 2003

Brussels, 5 March 2003

Today, the European Commission held a policy discussion about co-existence of genetically modified (GM), conventional, and organic crops. The Commissioners addressed the concept of co-existence, preparatory work carried out so far, possible farm management measures, the feasibility of GM-free zones and liability for adventitious presence. The Commission also discusses policy options and action to be taken on the national and EU level. The Commission noted that co-existence concerns the economic consequences of adventitious presence of genetically modified (GM) crops in non-GM crops. The issue has its origin in the principle that farmers should be able to cultivate freely the agricultural crops they choose, be it GM, conventional or organic. No form of agriculture should be excluded in the EU. Today's discussion will serve as a basis for a round table on co-existence on 24 April 2003, where stakeholders will have their say. The Commission will then speedily table guidelines how to address the issue of co-existence.

"Co-existence raises questions which have to be addressed. It is important to be clear about the rules and the legal framework, be it on a national or EU level. Let there be no mistake: Co-existence is about economic and legal questions, not about risks or food safety, because only authorised GMOs can be cultivated in the EU. The application of co-existence measures is not new. Already in conventional farming, seed producers, for example, have a great deal of experience of implementing farm management practices to ensure seed purity standards. The next step will be to extensively discuss the different options with member states and stakeholders. Then the Commission will quickly bring forward guidelines." , Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries said.

What is co-existence?

The cultivation of authorised GMOs in the EU will also have an impact on agricultural production. In particular, it raises the question of how to manage the adventitious mixing of GM and non-GM crops (admixture), resulting from seed impurities, cross-pollination, volunteers (self-sown plants, mainly from harvest fall-out carried over to the next growing season), harvesting-storage practices and transport, as well as its possible economic consequences. The ability of the agricultural sector to deliver a high degree of consumer choice is linked to its ability to maintain different production systems.

The most cited example of income loss due to admixture is that of conventional and organic farmers who have to sell their crop at a lower price because of the adventitious presence of GM crops above the authorised threshold level. The opposite example is where a speciality GM crop could depreciate in value because of admixture with non-GM crops.

Examples of possible farm management measures

  • isolation distances between fields;

  • buffer zones;

  • pollen barriers;

  • control of volunteers (self-sown plants);

  • crop rotation and planting arrangements for different flowering periods;

  • monitoring during cultivation, harvest, storing, transport, and processing.
The issue of GM-free zones

The Commission reckons that voluntary local arrangements are feasible between farmers or between farmers and industry to ensure the absence of one or more GM-crops in specific areas. Examples of such arrangements already exist for crops requiring high purity standards or separation, such as erucic acid oilseed rape. However, in general a ban of the cultivation of GM-crops in Member States has to be excluded, since the protection of economic interests alone cannot be invoked as a legally valid justification for imposing such strong limitations on fundamental liberties. In addition, the establishment of GMO-free zones against the will of some farmers runs counter to the very principle of co-existence.


The question has been raised as to whether the possibility to seek compensation for economic loss in the event of gene admixture needs to be regulated on an EU level. In respect of the principle of subsidiarity, the Commission considers that the first step must be to find out whether the existing national laws do not already offer sufficient and equal possibilities in this regard. Another question that arises is how to establish the causality link between the action and the damage.

Crop-specific solutions

Any approach to addressing the issue of co-existence needs to take into account the differences between crops and crop varieties with respect to their potential to spread to neighbouring fields. A study of the Joint Research Centre and a recent report on co-existence from a Danish expert group confirmed that the probability of admixture, as well as measures for reducing it, are highly crop-specific. The Danish study also suggests that under conditions of a limited GMO share (10%) and a general threshold of 1% for adventitious presence of GM crops in non-GM crops, co-existence can be ensured for most crops in Denmark (i.e., beet, maize, potatoes, barley, wheat, oats, triticale, rye, lupine, broad beans and peas). For some crops current farming practices may need to be modified, whereas in other cases difficulties with co-existence are virtually non-existent under these conditions. However, for oilseed rape, as well as for seed production of certain crops, ensuring co-existence may be more problematic and further evaluation is required before guidelines can be developed.

Location-specific differences are a key in determining efficient and cost-effective measures for ensuring the co-existence of different production systems. For a few crops, mainly oilseed rape, measures to ensure co-existence could involve significant changes in farming practices.

DN: IP/03/314 Date: 05/03/2003

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