The Netherlands was the first country in the EU to reach an agreement among all stakeholders on the implementation of co-existence. Despite this, critics of genetically modified crops are dissatisfied with the agreement.
Co-existence regulation is based on an agreement of all stakeholders. The van Dijk committee, named after its chairman, came up with an agreement among conventional and organic farmers, seed producers, and consumers on practical measures for co-existence in the Netherlands. The goal was to minimise admixing of GM crops at the farm level, thereby ensuring freedom of choice for farmers and consumers.
The Main Board of Arable Crops has set up regulations for co-existence based on the Coexistence Agreement:
Farmers wishing to grow GM crops must notify their neighbours before February 1st. This is also the deadline for informing the public registery. Similarly, farmers intending to produce GM-free crops must inform their GM-cultivating neighbours.
Farmers must comply with prescribed codes of conduct. At all stages of cultivation, suitable measures must be taken to avoid the admixing GM and GM-free crops. These include thoroughly cleaning machinery, maintaining separation distances, and implementing segregated storage and transport.
Minimum separation distances have been set for potatoes, sugar beet, and maize. For GM fields adjacent to conventional fields, the separation distances are 3 metres for potatoes, 1.5 metres for sugar beet, and 25 metres for maize. If the GM field is adjacent to a field with a certified GM-free crop (as is the case for organic farming), the minimum separation distances increase to 10 metres for potatoes, 3 metres for sugar beet, and 250 metres for maize.
If proposed codes of practice for co-existence are upheld, the chances of admixing and subsequent economic losses are considered remote. A grower who does not adhere to the co-existence measures may be held liable under the Dutch Civil Law for losses due to adventitious presence of GM material – but only if the damage is provable and can be linked to an individual GM farmer. Agricultural producers upholding codes of conduct cannot be held liable if losses occur nonetheless. In that case, a public fund will compensate for losses. Such a fund will be established for each crop. The fund is expected to be set up at the end of 2008.
In July 2008, the partners of the Dutch Co-existence Agreement agreed on the fund. The fund:
Different sources will contribute to the fund. Costs for equipment will be compensated by the product boards and costs for potato and maize will be compensated by private companies. Who cover costs for sugar beet has not been decided yet.
Compliance is enforced by including co-existence measures in certified Good Agricultural Gap schemes. Farmers who do not observe co-existence measures may be reproached and even fined by the Main Board of Arable Crops.
Monitoring will focus on companies marked ‘unsafe’ after risk analysis in order to prevent admixture further on down the chain. A separate process will be set up for that.