Legal aspects of co-existence and traceability

In order for consumers to be able to put confidence in GMO labelling, a corresponding system of laws is needed to hold food supply chain stakeholders accountable for the integrity of the system. This includes identifying liable parties in the event of losses, setting up guidelines for redress in case of guilt, streamlining systems from overseas, and addressing aspects of intellectual property law.

Liability and other legal concerns

Liability has become one of the most contraversial topics regarding co-existence. No one wants to pay the price when a conventional crop is found to have too much GM content - much less producers who never wanted to have anything to do with GMOs in the first place. Co-existence and traceability models must take legal aspects and liability into account before they can be considered feasible. For instance, it is critical to know how unexpected GM content will affect downstream stakeholders from a legal standpoint. Researchers will use supply chain models to assign liability and come up with legal solutions.


Europe's interface with legal systems overseas

The EU imports approximately 40 million tonnes of soy material annually, mostly from countries that are major producers of GM soy.
The EU imports approximately 40 million tonnes of soy material annually, mostly from countries that are major producers of GM soy.
The European Union is not self-sufficient when it comes to food and agriculture. For example, raising livestock requires high amounts of high-protein plant-based animal feed. Animal-based feed used to provide much needed protein, but the practice is now prohibited to manage BSE outbreaks. Soy is the only feed crop with enough protein to give livestock optimal growth. Most of Europe, however, lies too far north to produce soybeans, which forces most European feed companies to import soy material from the United States, Brazil, and Argentina – all of which have widely adopted GM soybeans.

The members of the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety have recently agreed that all countries must clearly label exports with genetically modified organisms, but the new rules have a grace period that gives stakeholders until 2012 to develop the means necessary to do so. If countries succeed at realising this regulation, traceability in cross-border trade will become much easier.

Not all countries, however, agree that cross-border labelling is a good idea. The United States and Argentina did not joined the Cartagena Protocol yet and generally do not consider GM soy different from conventional soy. Therefore, they see no reason to segregate or label them.

Integrating agricultural imports from overseas into the EU’s system of labelling and traceability requires a close look at legal setups and supply chains in major export countries.


GMO-free zones

Politics and policies within the European Union could have a major effect on co-existence measures. For example, voluntary GMO-free zones have been proposed in many parts of Europe. Such situations could modify some basic assumptions in co-existence scenarios. Although not endorsed by the EU itself, these possibilities should not be ignored as opportunities for reducing production and control costs.