Public debates / Stakeholder activities

Public debate and stakeholder opinions

Opinions on genetically modified organisms are still quite diverse throughout the Netherlands, although the Van Dijk Committee achieved, and published, a compromise on co-existence practices. The conditions of this agreement do not mirror the standpoints of all parties involved - as is the case with all compromises. In 2008, several important stakeholders, such as the Minister of Agriculture and Raoel Bino, director of Plant Research International (part of Wageningen University and Research Centre) have pleaded for keeping the options for biotechnology open.

Positions on co-existence

The Binnenhof houses the parliament and parts of the government.
The Binnenhof houses the parliament and parts of the government.

The Dutch government feels that biotechnology is of great societal and economic importance: innovative developments offer great opportunities for solving important societal issues in health care, sustainable agriculture, the environment and industry.

The Dutch government chooses to make the most of these opportunities - and recognises that this is possible only when safety, transparency of decision-making, freedom of choice for consumers, and ethical acceptance are guaranteed by the state.

Several ministries, each with its own responsibilities, are involved in biotechnology.

Self-regulation, an aim of the Dutch government, is reflected in the proposal developed by the van Dijk Committee.

Political parties

In the Netherlands, the CDA (Christian Democratic Party), the PvdA (Labour Party), the SP (the Socialists) and the VVD (the Liberals) are the largest political parties.

With an eye on potential contributions to sustainable agriculture, the CDA has a positive attitude towards genetic modification of plants. The CDA finds it important to establish transparent licensing procedures and, for consumers and producers alike, the freedom of choice .

The PvdA has the following position on co-existence:

  • Optimisation: pragmatic application of gene technology in plants may facilitate, for example, a decrease in the use of pesticides and the improvement of production efficiency.
  • Sustainability: the growth of GM crops can combine the best of both conventional and organic practices, i.e. sustainable growth and safe products with the right proportion of price and quality.
  • Plurality: no agricultural form should be excluded from the system. Conventional and GM agricultural growth must be able to co-exist - provided that issues of liability, freedom of choice, and separation of production chains have been addressed.

The SP sees no opportunities for using biotechnology in agriculture. The current applications only give advantages for multinationals, while insecurities are high for humans, animals and the environment. Developing countries rarely benefit from biotechnology, because its own agrarian development stagnates and profits usually go to multinationals. The government should not invest in agricultural biotechnology, unless there is an urgent public importance for which there is no alternative.

The VVD believes that chances for improvements in the quality of food and of health care are offered by biotechnology. Further development, and application, of this technology - provided that risk analysis is executed carefully - will offer new, desirable opportunities for important areas of the Dutch economy, such as commerce, industry, services, and small and medium-sized enterprises.

The majority of Dutch biotechnological companies, and related organisations, are represented by the Netherlands’ Biotech Industry Association (NIABA). This organisation favours the proposal on co-existence, although it considers the separation distances to be larger than necessary.

Dutch farmers agreed on co-existence measures.
Dutch farmers agreed on co-existence measures.

The Platform ABC, an alliance of agricultural producers and special-interest groups, has a reserved and pragmatic position to date on the growth of GM crops in the Netherlands. The growth of some crops can offer possibilities, but in practice the advantages are limited. The growth of GM-free crops must remain possible in the Netherlands. Consumers and farmers must have the freedom to choose. Farmers demand products that are free from any environmental or health risk - which, according to the Platform, is not the case with genetically modified crops. Both organic and conventional products must remain GM-free and, furthermore, crossing to wild species must be avoided at all costs. New insights in co-existence must constantly be incorporated into existing regulations. The issue of liability must be well regulated. In the case of a admixture, the Platform believes, principally, that the one responsible for the admixture should pay. Platform ABC has signed the Co-existence Agreement.

The Netherlands Union of Farmers and Horticulturists is positive towards the use of genetic modification in agriculture. Restrictions concern sufficient acceptance in society, applications which are safe for the environment and for human and animal health, and the freedom of choice for consumers and farmers. The Association voluntarily accepts the co-existence measures of the Dutch Co-existence Agreement. These measures will become part of the Good Agricultural Practice in the Netherlands. The Netherlands Union of Farmers and Horticulturists has signed the Co-existence Agreement.

Food and feed industry

No official position on co-existence has been assumed to date by the Dutch food industry.


About biotechnology, Dutch consumers feel better informed than do most other Europeans. The general public has a pragmatic approach towards biotechnology, demonstrated in a study by Schuttelaar & Partners. However, a strong opposition exists, led by NGOs. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, XminusY Solidarity Fund, Milieudefensie, Goede Waar & Co, Christian Ecological Network, the Dutch Platform for Gene Technology, A SEED Europe, Hivos, and Wemos are among the many non-governmental organisations joined in the Dutch Gentech Coalition, which do not want biotech products in the Netherlands and which have set up a relevant website together. For co-existence, for example, these organisations demand zero tolerance on admixing during cultivation, freedom of choice for farmers and consumers, liability of the GM grower or producer in all circumstances, and notification and registration in a public register. A petition with this message was sent to the members of Parliament on 15 June 2005 by the Dutch Gentech Coalition.

Consultation activities

Before drawing up the Co-existence Agreement, the Committee on Co-existence consulted all interested stakeholders and stakeholder groups - including farmers, seed companies, biotechnology companies, food and feed producers, NGOs, consumer groups, and regulatory bodies.

Greenpeace protests against GMOs in many countries.
Greenpeace protests against GMOs in many countries.
Initiatives against GMOs

Anti-GM activities have been conducted, some of which have been illegal. In some occasions field trials have been destroyed. In these cases, the perpetrators have not been identified.

In 2008, activists from Greenpeace sowed organic flowers in a test field with GM maize from Monsanto in Lelystad, the Netherlands, by means of a confetti canon. Greenpeace says it invalidated the trial, because the flowers grew faster than the GM plants.

Several protests near sites of co-existence trials in 2006 were conducted by A SEED Europe and XminusY, two environmental organisations. In 2007, these organisations organised protest marches near planned sites for field trials.
In July 2007, Greenpeace protested against the co-existence trial by wrapping all flowers with plastic bags, thereby preventing gene flow. Earlier in May 2006, Greenpeace protested against the trial by planting spinach in a GM maize field. It was thought that the spinach, by sprouting earlier, would hinder the GM maize. The intended interruption was unsuccessful.

A boat tour campaigning for GM free zones in the Netherlands was organised by A SEED Europe and XminY Solidariteitsfonds in August 2005, visiting several cities in the northern provinces of the Netherlands. The campaigners asked for dialogue with local governments. The municipality of Culemborg has declared itself a GM-free zone.

Regional Co-extra reporter /rapporteur:

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