Contribution to Policy Development

Co-Extra contributes to reinforce the European Research Area through strong collaboration with existing European centres, networks and projects as well as several third countries.

The project counts several laboratories of the European Network of GMO Laboratories (ENGL) among its members. The experience and guidelines elaborated into plenary sessions or by working groups (e.g. on threshold interpretation, performance criteria…) will be integrated. Privileged access of ENGL’s members to Co-Extra results will also ensure feedback from the numerous laboratories of this network.

The project looks at establishing privileged relations with all existing European projects, especially, the SIGMEA and GMOCHIPS projects:

  • Regarding SIGMEA, Co-Extra
    • complements the forecasted work by taking into consideration the biological approaches of admixture mitigation and by integrating its results, particularly on the legal issues, into the initial decision support tools. This integration is facilitated by the involvement of several partners of SIGMEA into Co-Extra
    • feeds the SIGMEA with knowledge and data on biological containment, with large scale contamination models, with understanding of impact of supply chains on crop production
    • integrates SIGMEA outputs into bio-confinement and supply chain organisation modelling
  • Regarding GMOCHIPS, Co-Extra benefits of the experience of several partners of GMOCHIPs involved into Co-Extra.

Several past programmes delivered these last years numerous useful results which are considered in the framework of Co-Extra:

  • Regarding several concerted action on traceability such as Eufoodtrace, Fishtrace and dissemination such as FLAIR-FLOW, and starting TRACE, Co-Extra integrates the relevant results into the traceability studies and dissemination activities with an active dialogue with their partners and coordinators. This integration also considers the national relays established into 24 European countries already working despite the end of the FLAIR-FLOW concerted action.
  • Regarding QPCRGMOFOOD, Co-Extra benefits from the experience of this project by the involvement of several members, including the coordinator, of this former project into Co-Extra. More generally speaking all data from the ENTRANSFOOD cluster are considered.

Co-Extra will provide input to next EC research programmes related to

  • biological containment, with updated research domain definitions and basis
  • product quality assessment (mycotoxins, allergens, pathogenic organisms, etc.), with knowledge over analytical and documentary traceability
  • biotechnology law, with data of co-existence and traceability regulations around the world
  • post-market monitoring, with detection methods, territorial organisation models, etc.

Furthermore, thanks to planned co-operation with US organisations, the ERA will benefit of the experience acquired from US research programmes carried out before and in parallel to Co-Extra. The ERA will finally benefit through Co-Extra of the experience acquired into several national research programs (French “Relevance and feasibility of non-GMO supply chains”, Danish study on the Coexistence, etc.).

Economic impact

The global market of GMOs is currently evaluated at 120 billion Euros, a figure to be compared to the 6 billion of Euros of the industry of organic products. The economic potential of GMOs has led to an increase of 5% of GMO farming areas over the world for the last three years with a 15% increase in 2003 due to the official recognition of the presence of GM soybean in Brazil. This global evaluation hides very different situations with e.g. GM soybean acreages representing ca. 55% of worldwide soybean surfaces while most of the other GM crops are still less than 5% of the worldwide areas. Beyond these figures, it should be pointed out that situation in some former Soviet Union’s countries is unclear as they seem to have uncontrolled crops of GMOs after involuntary releases of GMO from experimental fields.

The GMO market is facing two major opposite evolutions. On the one side, states which have de facto banned GM crops, like Japan, most of the countries of the European Union or developing countries are pressured by GMO producing countries as the United States, Argentina and Canada along either by direct interventions through international organisations as WTO or through alimentary help programmes as the UN World Food Programme which benefits of large gifts of US-AID thus of GMO or derived products, to open their markets. The GMO global market is expected to expand up to 550 billion Euros by 2010 in the case of lift of all moratoriums.

On the other side, a non negligible part of consumers from GMO producing countries have begun to demand for food without GMOs or at least with clear labelling to provide them with a possibility of free choice. According to a poll performed on July 2003, 92% of the US consumers wish GMO labelling and 55% of them would not buy products that contain GMOs. For instance, the demand for non-GMO corn from the US is evaluated at 30% of the total production of the country. Some prospectors even envisage the ‘worst-case’ scenario that this supply may go up to 70 to 80% in the hypothesis that most of the non-commingled non-GMO corn can be segregated and “identity preserved” this fall. The case of soybean is even more meaningful. Although GM soybeans have been approved for import by the EU, the share represented by Europe in US soybean meal exports dropped from 27% to 7% from 1998 to 1999. This economic situation induced the legal suit in front of the WTO requested by some GMOs producing countries against the EU. Moreover, the recent release of the new European 1829 and 1830/03/EC regulation on traceability and labelling resulted in a new request of several American farmers unions and industries to the US government to introduce a new legal suit at the WTO against the EU.

Finally, surveys of European consumer attitudes show an ambiguous picture. Studies of consumers’ propensity to buy GMO derived products distinguish three third categories: 1/3 of them refuse absolutely to buy any products containing GMOs, 1/3 would accept if they were convinced on their benefits, 1/3 do not have any rejection against GM products.

In this context, it is more than likely that countries that are the most capable to ensure co-existence of GM and non GM crops and provide reliable traceability all along the food and feed chains would get rather decisive advantage in the international competition as they will be in the position to offer guaranteed freedom of choice for all of the stakeholders, from producers to final consumers. This is particularly true for countries as EU member states, Japan, New-Zealand, South Korea, etc which have regulations over GMO-related labelling. To take up the previous examples again, in the situation of worldwide open market for both GMO and non-GMO or derived products over the world, premiums reported for non-GMO corn and soybean are forecasted to reach up to 15 and 35 Euro cent range, respectively.

Moreover, reliable co-existence and traceability systems will help rebuilding the confidence of consumers into food labelling that has been damaged by contamination of food supply chains by unexpected GMO such as observed for the Starlink case in USA. The Starlink case induced the withdrawn of Aventis from the crop science domain due to the costs of products withdrawn estimated by several economic analysts between US$ 100 millions and US$ 1 billion.

Lastly, Regulation (EC) No 1946/2003 requires that products designed to exports are of the same quality in terms of reliability on claimed GM content than the ones designed to the EU domestic market.

On the other hand, reliable co-existence and traceability systems would boost the commercialisation of added value GMOs or derived products (e.g. pharmaceutical compounds).

Industrial impact

Past experiences of fortuitous presence of GMOs (e.g. France in 2000 and 2001, Italy in 2002 and 2003) in seeds of conventional and organic agriculture have shown the great damages contamination may cause to the different economic stakeholders involved in the food and feed chains. However, after the destructions of the contaminated crops and reimbursements to farmers by the seed companies, contaminations in concerned countries have decreased down to the limit of quantification. This shows that whenever they receive a clear signal from authorities, industrialists, especially the seed companies, have the capability to comply with regulations on co-existence.

An opposite case was recently observed where a shipment of several tons of sunflower seeds was about to be completely withdrawn from the market until it had been proved that positive P35S screening did not come from GMO but virus presence.

From the agribusiness and related companies perspective, the impact of Co-Extra will be to provide to this sector with tools and methods that are not only reliable but also cost-efficient. In this way, the different European and third countries stakeholders will be in the position to meet the consumers’ demand for traceability at a lowest possible cost. The industrial impact of Co-Extra will in fact come from various vectors:

  • Facilitate a cost-effective and reliable production of GM or non GM crops, also by including outcomes of other projects such as SIGMEA
  • Take advantage from the various benefits provided by biotechnologies to farmers, consumer and environment: higher productivity with a decreased use of pesticides, better nutritive quality, medicine purpose plants
  • Decrease or eliminate the costs generated by the “absolute” separation/segregation between GMO and non-GMO supply chains required by retailers to meet consumers’ concerns.
  • Optimize GMO-related traceability by integrating and harmonizing it with other types of traceability as requested by the Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 to enter in force in January 2005.
  • Reduce costs generated by fortuitous presence of GMOs or derived products such as products declassification or market withdrawal.
  • Reduce costs related to domestic or international disputes in case of fortuitous presence of GMOs by improving traceability between stakeholders and countries.

Another indirect Co-Extra impact is to reposition European biotechnology companies and other related industries within research and development on GMOs up to now slowed down by European citizens’ reluctance against GMOs. It may then be expected that the recent delocalisation in third countries of companies’ research centres will stop.

Societal impact

By delivering complete practical integrated systems aimed at ensuring co-existence and traceability all along the food and feed chains, Co-Extra addresses possible ethical, health and even environmental issues related to the next foreseeable increase of GMOs and derived products in the European market by:

  • Avoiding adventitious admixture of GMO with non-GMO products (and vice versa with regard to future high value GMOs)
  • Enabling post-market monitoring with regard to ethical, health and even environmental issues
  • Allowing post-market monitoring and rapid cost-effective withdrawal in case of problems
  • Constituting somewhat like a valuable example for, a repetition of the more general traceability frame to be established in compliance to the Regulation (EC) No 178/2002.

Co-Extra also addresses European citizens’ demand to consume "the types of agricultural [products] they choose, be it GM crops, conventional or organic crops", to paraphrase the EC statement on July 2003. This should contribute to partially dissipate the concerns of a large part of European citizens against GMOs and help them having a more rational regard towards GMOs. This new point of view in it turn will enable more objective debates over benefits and damages possibly brought by GMOs. One can remind that 30% of the pharmaceutical products currently marketed derive from genetically modified micro-organisms.

Moreover, such a citizen sensitive point might reinforce the consumers’ confidence into general labelling claims (lack of detectable presence of allergens, traceability of process and origin).