Coexistence rules in the EU member states

Coexistence: A European patchwork

The European Commission had announced that it would be deciding in April 2006 whether the coexistence of GM and non-GM farming should be regulated at European level. A "Report on the implementation of national measures" has just been published. According to the report, no general regulations are to be issued from Brussels for the time being, until more experience of coexistence has been gained within individual member states. Only a few EU countries have passed coexistence legislation at national level, and the rules vary significantly from one country to another.

In summer 2003 the then European Commission passed non-binding guidelines on coexistence with provide a framework, but leave the actual formulation of legislation to the individual member states.

European Commissioner for Agriculture Mariann Fischer Boel believes it is not appropriate to propose unified EU rules on coexistence at this time. More experience with coexistence measures in the individual countries should be gained first.

So far only a few countries have implemented the guidelines. In Denmark, Austria, Germany and Portugal, for instance, there is legislation in force concerning the cultivation of GM plants which is designed to safeguard the continued existence of non-GM conventional farming. In Italy a law came into force in December 2005, but it does no more than transfer responsibility to the provincial governments and does not set down any details. In other countries, including the Czech Republic, Hungary and Luxembourg, the legislative process is far enough advanced for a bill to have been submitted to the Commission. A few other countries have drafts of coexistence measures, some closer to being made law than others.

Key points for safeguarding coexistence include separation distances between fields with GM and conventional plants of the same crop, a cultivation register – which is stipulated in all laws – and liability for economic loss as a result of GMO contamination of conventional harvest produce. However, it is precisely on these key coexistence issues that EU member states have gone their different ways. The national coexistence rules – and therefore the conditions for cultivating GM plants – vary significantly. In 2006, GM maize will again be grown in Spain, France, Germany, the Czech Republic and Portugal.

European Commissioner for Agriculture Mariann Fischer Boel had announced that she would be looking at the different national coexistence rules and studying the various strategies. Several countries, particularly those critical of green genetic engineering, are demanding binding EU-wide legislation. In addition, the Commission will be holding a two-day conference on coexistence in Vienna, the results of which are to be taken into account in the decision.

In connection with a conference of agricultural ministers in September 2005, Fischer Boel indicated that she could imagine binding European guidelines with a few central ideas on coexistence. However, the actual development of this legal framework should continue to be left to the member states.