New report considers co-existence of GM and non-GM crops and seeds

February 27, 2006

Brussels, 24 February 2006

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre is publishing case studies to identify how farmers can reduce the “adventitious” – unintended and unavoidable – presence of GM material in non-GM harvests. The objective of the report is to provide a science-based reference to support any future design and implementation of coexistence measures within the EU. The case studies covered crop and seed production of maize, sugar-beet and cotton. The report also examined the feasibility of producing conventional seeds in Europe under different thresholds for the presence of GM seeds. The study examines the issue at a regional scale through simulations using data on European agricultural landscapes, weather conditions and agricultural practices, rather than just the field-to-field analyses that have been done so far. It concludes that crop production at the 0.9 % threshold set by the EU is feasible, with few or no changes in agricultural practices, if adventitious GM presence in seeds does not exceed 0.5 %. The production of seed up to 0.5% GM seed would be possible with little or no change in current seed production practices.

The research carried out by a consortium [1] led by the Commission’s in-house scientific service, DG Joint Research Centre, examined the issue of adventitious presence of GM material in non-GM crops. The term adventitious refers to an unintended and unavoidable presence under current farming practices. The EU legal framework for traceability and labelling of GMOs and GMO-derived products defines a threshold of 0.9% for the adventitious presence of GM material in non-GM food and feed and provides a baseline for coexistence measures in agriculture. Based on simulations and expert opinions, the report finds that coexistence in crop production at the 0.9% threshold is feasible with few or no changes in agricultural practices. For maize, additional measures are needed for some fields particularly affected by cross-pollination due to their shape, size and relative position with respect to winds and neighbouring GM fields. The report looks in detail into the effectiveness and feasibility of such measures, for example the introduction of isolation distances between GM and non-GM fields; sowing a non-GM maize buffer strip around GM fields; and using GM varieties with different flowering dates compared to non-GM varieties.

The report concludes that conventional (non-GM) seed production in Europe with adventitious GM presence not exceeding 0.5% [2] is feasible with few (maize) or no changes (sugar-beet and cotton) of current seed production practices. For maize seed production, such changes would build on existing practices (namely the implementation of larger isolation distances than those currently used to separate maize seed and maize crop production fields). In addition, lowering the seed threshold to 0.3% would require additional measures (for example arranging GM and non-GM seed plots in the farm in a way that takes into account dominant winds). Finally, guaranteeing that maize seeds will contain no more than 0.1% adventitious GM presence is not possible if co-existence measures are limited to action on individual farms or coordination between neighbouring farms.

While previous studies looking at the coexistence of GM and non-GM harvests were based on field-to-field analysis of cross-pollination, this new report moves the study of coexistence to a regional level. This has been made possible by running novel models, designed to address the spread of genes from GM crops to non-GM crops, with digitalised versions of actual European agricultural landscapes, regional meteorological conditions and agricultural practices. This has allowed the estimation of levels of adventitious GM presence in non-GM harvest resulting from cross-pollination from multiple fields and other sources, and over extended time periods.

In July 2003, the Commission published guidelines to help Member States develop strategies to ensure the effective co-existence of GM crops with conventional and organic crops. A number of Member States have since notified legislation on co-existence.

The Commission will shortly publish a report on the measures taken across the EU, which will be fed into a conference to discuss the issue, co-hosted with the Austrian presidency, to be held in Vienna on 5-6 April. Following the conference, the Commission will decide if any further action needs to be taken at EU level.

The full version of today’s report is available at the following website:

[1] Consortium formed by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC)-Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS); Institute National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA, France); University of Applied Sciences of Weihenstephan (Germany); Desarrollo Agrario y Pesquero (DAP; Spain)

[2] Thresholds for the adventitious presence of GM seeds in conventional seed lots may be defined in accordance with Directive 2001/18/EC as well as with the crop specific Directives on the marketing of seeds. However, such thresholds have not yet been set and are still under discussion. This implies that currently all seed lots containing detectable traces of GM seeds have to be labelled as GM.

Item source: IP/06/230 Date: 24/02/2006

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