Brussels, 06 Apr 2006
Greenpeace has published a report claiming that coexistence is leading to the contamination of conventional and organic crops by genetically modified (GM) crops. The report is timed to coincide with a conference in Vienna at which stakeholders are having a final say on coexistence, before the Commission decides whether or not to propose EU coexistence rules.
The Commission signalled in March that rules governing coexistence were presently unjustified in view of the EU's limited experience in cultivating GM crops, and the need to conclude the process of introducing legislation in Member States. However, the Commission promised to wait until after the Vienna conference, taking place from 4 to 6 April, before making a final decision, so that stakeholders may have a say.
'In an area where public opinion is so strong, as is GMO policy, it is the duty of the Commission to work together with Member States to ensure that rules for the authorisation and use of GM crops respond to the concerns of citizens and protect biodiversity in our natural environment whilst at the same time complying with the functioning of the internal market,' said EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.
Greenpeace and Europabio, the European Association for Bioindustries, illustrate how far apart opinions on coexistence are, as both of which have published documents to coincide with the conference. Greenpeace's report, written in collaboration with the farmers' organisation Assemblea Pagesa and the civil society group Plataforma Trangènics Fora!, has been named 'Impossible Coexistence'.
The report gives details of research into coexistence in Spain, the only EU country that grows GMOs on a large scale. Researchers took samples from the maize fields of 40 Spanish organic and conventional farmers and found that in almost a quarter of the investigated cases, the unintended and unwanted presence of GM maize was found in fields belonging to non-GM farmers. The contamination was found to be as high as 12.6 per cent. The report notes that three of the contamination cases involved local maize varieties, which farmers will no longer be able to use for planting.
In addition, the research found that in several cases, the affected farmers suffered economic losses as they were no longer able to sell the contaminated maize at a premium market value.
'The Spanish experience demonstrates that coexistence between [genetically engineered (GE)] and non-GE crops is a fallacy,' said Antonio Ruiz, President of the Organic Farming Committee of Aragón, Spain. 'European ministers attending this week's meeting should seriously consider whether they wish this state of affairs on farmers and consumers in the rest of Europe.'
The report's main conclusion is that 'coexistence is not possible'. It also states that: 'The control and monitoring of GMOs from the laboratory to the plate is ineffective, and in many cases non-existent. The system for segregation, traceability and labelling does not work.'
It adds that due to the lack of independent systems for detection, the vast majority of contamination cases are never detected, and that the economic costs of contamination are high and borne by those whose crops are contaminated.
The conclusions refer to the political influence of the GM industry, governments' inability to prevent non-compliance with legislation: 'Any system of control has its failings and there will always be human or technical carelessness and errors, and therefore in practice it is impossible to prevent other crops being contaminated.'
For its part, Europabio has published a list of quotes by politicians, academics, industry and farmers on the GM debate and coexistence. They include a quote from Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, who is reported as saying: 'Regulations must not be so hard that the producers of GM crops have no chance to come to market.'
Europabio criticises the Vienna conference for not involving farmers who have successfully grown GMOs, or particular scientists who have conducted research into coexistence in the last three years. 'Coexistence of GM and non-GM crops is already a reality in Spain, where a quarter of a million hectares of Bt maize has been grown since 1998 with no substantial problems, [...] and millions of hectares are grown around the world, again without problems.'
The conference has however been described by Ms Fischer Boel as being 'a crucial step in the consultation process', and as bringing together 'people of the very highest calibre to cover all aspects of the coexistence issue'.