[UK] Organic farmers accept co-existence but call for stricter thresholds

In a public debate two days before the closing of the public consultation on co-existence regulations, organic farming organisations agreed that co-existence will be inevitable. Since organic farmers fear loss of their “GM free“ status if their products become mixed with GMOs, they demand that the upper limit for GMOs in organic seed be set at 0.1 percent.

In July, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) presented a proposal for managing co-existence, and the public was invited to comment on this proposal until 20 October. As part of the ensuing discussion, organic farmers' organisations, stating that “big dollars“ would drive the cultivation of GM plants in Britain, agreed that co-existence must be regulated.

Lawrence Woodward, director of Elm Farm Research Centre, pointed out that robust and transparent protocols must be in place once the commercial cultivation of GMOs begins. Citing existing research, he considers seed contamination to be a major hurdle for co-existence and, accordingly, called on Defra to lower the upper limit of GM content in organic seed from 0.5 to 0.1 percent.

Although most farmers are optimistic that – given the right protocols – they will be able to handle co-existence, they are uneasy with the development. Oliver Dowding, chairman of the organic committee of the National Farmers Union, articulated the worries of most organic farmers at this time: “I can see a greater risk from co-existence, because of the impact on my market, and I’m not prepared to take any risk at the moment, because I can see all the risk and no benefit for me.“

UK officials stated that no commercial GM cultivation will be permitted until co-existence regulations have been established. Currently, Defra is evaluating the diverse feedback received during the public consultation.

United Kingdom