"The development of efficient and cost-effective strategies to ensure co-existence is vital to ensure a practical choice between GM and non-GM produce for farmers and consumers,” said Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. “This is not a question of health or environmental protection, because no GMOs are allowed on the EU market unless they have been proved to be completely safe. To ensure that consumers know exactly what they are buying the EU has developed an advanced labelling and traceability system for GMOs. Segregation measures must be in place to ensure that accidental traces of GMOs in conventional or organic products are kept within the strict ranges defined by EU legislation. Growing conditions are very varied from country to country and experience with GM crops is still limited in Europe. It therefore does not seem appropriate to propose unified EU rules at this time.”
Experience with the cultivation of GM crops remains extremely limited in the EU. Commercial cultivation has so far been limited to two types of GM maize. In Spain, GM maize cultivation amounted to 58,000 hectares in 2004, or about 12 percent of total Spanish maize cultivation. In other Member States, cultivation is limited to a few hundred hectares. In Spain, GM maize has been grown since 1998 under a non-binding code of good practice.
On 23 July 2003, the Commission adopted a Recommendation on guidelines for the development of national strategies and best practices, to help Member States develop national legislative or other strategies for co-existence. Most Member States are still developing national approaches, with specific co-existence legislation adopted in four Member States (Germany, Denmark, Portugal and six of the Austrian Länder) by the end of 2005. Monitoring programmes still have to be set up and implemented in order to verify the effectiveness and economic feasibility of the measures taken.
Co-existence measures aim at protecting farmers of non-GM crops from the possible economic consequences of accidental mixing of crops with GMOs. The Commission Recommendation states that co-existence measures should not go beyond what is necessary to ensure that accidental traces of GMOs in non-GM products stay below EU labelling thresholds in order to avoid any unnecessary burden for the operators concerned. Measures should be science-based and proportionate and must not generally forbid the growing of GM crops.
Most Member States have based their approaches on management measures applicable at the level of individual farms or in coordination between neighbouring farms. The onus of implementing segregation measures has generally been placed on GM crop growers. The very diverse nature of EU farming means that co-existence measures have to be adapted to local conditions and crop types, and make it imperative to ensure the maximum degree of flexibility for the Member States in developing their national approaches.
The Commission believes there is a need to gather further experience before departing from the current subsidiarity-based approach set out in the 2003 Recommendation. However, it intends to take very careful notice of the opinions expressed by stakeholders. The co-existence conference organised in Vienna on 5-6 April 2006 will provide such an occasion. In the meantime, the Commission proposes
In 2008, the Commission will report on the progress made, including an update on the development and implementation of national co-existence measures.