Brussels, 15 Sep 2003
Participants at a public hearing on coexistence have been told that further research into the mechanisms of conventional crop contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is required before efficient safeguards can be introduced.
The hearing was hosted by the European Parliament's agriculture committee in Brussels on 12 September. The event formed part of the ongoing debate on coexistence, and follows the recent publication of Commission proposals suggesting that a tolerance level for the accidental presence of GMOs in conventional seeds be set at between 0.3 and 0.7 per cent, depending on the type of seed.
One of the experts invited to attend the hearing was Jeremy Sweet, from the UK's national institute of agriculture botany. Mr Sweet told MEPs: 'We need a lot more data on how pollen is distributed and how it moves and contaminates fields [...]. GMOs can persist in one field for one year to another, even from one decade to another. Just one seed per square metre could lead to 100 per cent contamination.'
Mr Sweet's remarks were supported by Rikke Bagger Jørgensen, who argued that: 'current knowledge of certain crops is too limited at the moment to suggest threshold measures.'
One element in the debate focuses on whether measures to safeguard coexistence should be set at Member State or EU level. MEP Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, currently preparing a report on coexistence for the Parliament, said: 'The Commission guidelines make it clear that it is up to Member States to decide the threshold of coexistence, but this procedure will get more difficult with enlargement, as 25 different national systems will have to be harmonised.'
However, many experts believe that as contamination risks vary greatly depending on local conditions and practices, the problem calls for a case by case approach. 'We need local tools to monitor and follow up the effects of GMOs. We cannot give Europe wide recommendations,' argued Antoine Messean from INRA in France.
One possible solution to the problem was suggested by Olivier Pageard, from the French cereals cooperative. 'Coexistence [...] is technically possible, although with certain limits. However, it would be much simpler to separate GMOs and non genetically modified seeds in different regions,' he said.
Finally, on the question of who should bear the cost of measures aimed at ensuring coexistence, the only definite answer came from Ms Jørgensen, who concluded that: 'The extra cost [of coexistence] would vary from 0 to 21 per cent. The full responsibility for coexistence problems lies with the GMO farmer. If the recommendations for isolation distances, rotation periods, volunteer control etc. are not followed, the GMO farmer will have to pay damages to his non GMO neighbours.'
For further information on GMOs, please consult the following web address: