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EU Commission presents coexistence report

Genetically modified maize cultivation: Measures to avoid mixing of GM and conventional maize

Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli presented a new report on coexistence to the EU Agriculture Council at its meeting on 27 September 2010 in Brussels. The measures it proposes are intended to minimise the mixing of genetically modified and conventional maize. According to Commissioner Dalli, the report is designed to help member states produce their own coexistence regulations. At the same time, it became clear during the meeting that a large number of member states are voting against plans to transfer decision-making powers relating to the cultivation of GMOs to national level.

EU Agriculture Council on 27 September 2010 in Brussels: EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli and Belgian Agriculture Minister Sabine Laruelle, currently Chairman of the Council. Presenting the coexistence report, Dalli said that the document “details a set of non-binding practices, which aim to assist

As recently as July, the European Commission passed new guidelines on the cultivation of GMOs that give member states greater flexibility in managing coexistence at national level. Although they are non-binding for member states, the measures presented at the meeting are, Dalli explained, in line with the spirit and aims of the EU guidelines.

The report by the European Coexistence Bureau recommends separate storage of seed and minimum isolation distances during cultivation to minimise the mixing of GM and conventional maize. Different minimum isolation distances are recommended for the production of grain and silage maize.

  • The recommended minimum isolation distances for complying with the labelling threshold of 0.9 per cent are 15-50 metres for grain maize and 0-25 metres for silage maize.
  • To restrict GMO content to less than 0.2 per cent, the report recommends minimum isolation distances of 85-150 metres for grain maize and 50-65 metres for silage maize.
  • In the Mediterranean and the Balkans, another effective measure would be to grow GM and conventional maize at different times. For climatic reasons, this is not feasible anywhere else.
  • Minimum isolation distances can be cut in half by planting non-GM maize buffer zones.

To arrive at these recommendations, the Coexistence Bureau, which was set up by the Commission two years ago, evaluated data from a large number of European field trials, studies and model calculations. The underlying experiments were always designed to achieve maximum input of GM maize to neighbouring fields, e.g. in the way they were set up in relation to local wind conditions. The report claims that the above measures may not be sufficient in some parts of Europe. In very fragmented farmland, a suitable alternative could be to plant only GM crops or no GM crops in some regions.

National GMO decisions shelved?

At the same meeting of EU agriculture ministers, a majority of member states spoke out against nationalising decisions on GMO cultivation. On 13 July this year, the European Commission proposed that EU member states would be allowed in future to ban the cultivation of GM crops without scientific justification. Critics of the proposal, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain, fear such a decision would not only cause conflicts with the World Trade Organization (WTO) – it would also, they claim, rock the foundations of the European Union in the form of the single market and Common Agricultural Policy. Only Austria was expressly in favour of the plans. A working group will now look at possible solutions, which means that a quick agreement is no longer very likely.

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