A report presented by Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli to the Agriculture Council concludes that specific measures relating to storing and the application of isolation distances can help limit or avoid the co-mingling of genetically modified (GM) maize with conventional and organic maize. In particular, the Best Practice Document, prepared by the European Coexistence Bureau (ECoB) and published by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC), notes that storing seeds adequately and applying spatial isolation are the best ways to limit or avoid co-mingling. Alternative practices based on temporal isolation (shifting flowering times of GM and non-GM fields) are possible in several EU countries with specific climatic conditions.
Presenting the report to the Agriculture Council, Commissioner in charge of Health and Consumer Policy, John Dalli, said: "The suggested practises contained in this important document are applicable within the framework of the Commission's new approach to coexistence and GMO cultivation adopted in July. They are in full accordance with the spirit and aims of the proposal, which provides Member States with more flexibility to organise the co-existence of GM, conventional and organic crops." To add : "This document details a set of non-binding practices, which aim to assist Member States develop and refine their national or regional approaches to co-existence."
The "best practice" document covers the cultivation of GM maize up to the first point of sale. It deals with three types of productions: grain, whole plant and sweet maize. The European Coexistence Bureau (ECoB) analysed the potential sources of admixture and reached a set of consensually agreed, best agricultural management practices that will ensure coexistence while maintaining the economic and agronomic efficiency of the farm.
For example, among other practices, the ECoB proposes isolation distances of 15-50m to reduce cross-pollination between GM maize and non-GM maize and to limit GMO content in conventional food and feed to levels below 0,9% (the legal labelling threshold). Larger distances (100-500 m) are proposed for lower targets of admixture levels (e.g. 0.1%, which is the usual estimate for the limits of quantification).
The European Coexistence Bureau
In 2006, the Council invited the Commission to further work on coexistence in order to identify best practices for technical segregation measures and to develop crop-specific guidelines for coexistence. The Commission created the ECoB in 2008.
The Bureau consists of experts nominated by interested Member States (20 Member States currently participate) and a scientific secretariat provided by the Joint Research Center's Institute for Prospective and Technological Studies (IPTS).
Work on the "best practice" document was carried out in close cooperation with stakeholders and the final outcome allows EU Member States the necessary flexibility to adapt the measures to their specific regional and local conditions.
Facts & Figures
In 2009, GM crops were cultivated worldwide on 134 million hectares. The main cultivating countries are the USA (48% of global GMO area), Brazil (16%) and Argentina (16%). The four main GM crops, either insect resistant or herbicide tolerant, are: soybean (77% of global soybean crop area), cotton (49% of global cotton crop area), maize (26% of global maize crop area), and rapeseed (21% of global rapeseed crop area).
In the EU, only three GM crops have been authorised for cultivation:
Two GM maize products, of which only the insect-resistant Bt maize MON810 is cultivated in the EU.
One GM potato (GM starch potato, authorised March 2010).
On July 13, the Commission adopted a comprehensive proposal that provides the Member States the freedom to allow, restrict or ban the cultivation of GMOs on their territory, while keeping intact the EU's science-based GM authorisation system. The adopted package consisted of a new Recommendation on co-existence of GM crops with conventional and/or organic crops and a draft Regulation proposing a small change to the GMO legislation.
The proposal for revising Directive 2001/18/EC aimed to secure legal certainty for Member States when they decide on GMO cultivation on grounds other than science. It will be adopted through co-decision with the European Parliament and the Council.
The "best practice" document is available at: http://ecob.jrc.ec.europa.eu/documents.html
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