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PRactical Implementation of Coexistence in Europe

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Can GM and non GM products coexist?

A central goal of EU agricultural policy is for consumers to have free choice among conventional, genetically modified and organic products. Research is establishing how these products can coexist in national and international supply chains.

Industrial Technologies

Individual EU nations can decide for themselves on policies guiding cultivation, transport and marketing of conventional, genetically modified (GM) and organic products in line with EU law. These policies that ensure that all product types are available are called coexistence policies. Based on this premise, the EU-funded PRICE (Practical Implementation of Coexistence in Europe) project compared strategies to help achieve coexistence in a more practical and cost-effective way. To achieve its aims it researched the requirements and costs for all operators in the production chain — from seed production to feed industries. The project looked into procedures for ensuring coexistence such as the minimum distances between fields with and without GM crops, as well as segregation measures at transport and storage. It also studied how the food sector complies with EU regulations on traceability and labelling of GM products. PRICE developed software that can be used by key players in the food production chain as a decision support tool. The web-based tool for farmers can be exploited by advisers, cooperatives, and policymakers to assist in cultivation planning. With respect to maize, the platform is capable of estimating cross-pollination between GM and non-GM fields. It conducted a farmers’ survey to identify coexistence compliance costs for maize, soybean, sugar beet and oilseed rape in selected EU countries. Among its findings, the team noted that cytoplasmic male sterility in maize is a promising tool to avoid cross-pollination. However, in general a strategy based on buffer zones of a few maize rows suffices to ensure coexistence. The team successfully collated and validated gene flow datasets for maize. These were used in a new gene flow model that predicts the presence of GMOs in conventional fields and to test algorithms that advance the decision support tool. The team also developed sampling strategies to detect GM pollen in conventional fields combining conventional sampling with pollen traps. Project researchers also compiled data on international supply chains of maize and soybeans, and carried out case studies of GM-free maize bread and milk. They underlined the large increase in GM events in international trade, diversification in the number of traits and asynchronous approval which is an ongoing problem in the EU and requires further investigation. An interactive stakeholder platform has linked PRICE activities with similar work worldwide. PRICE produced several film portraits of stakeholders and coexistence practices in Europe during the project. These films present the perspectives and views on coexistence and PRICE from different stakeholders. Overall, the project noted that both GM and non-GM products in Europe can coexist under current EU legislation. It found that GM-free standards will ultimately depend on availability of non-GM soybean outside Europe, non-GM price premiums, segregation costs along the supply chain, and willingness of EU consumers to pay for non-GM products. While many stakeholders find the topic controversial, there is enough interest in coexistence strategies to warrant more research and recommendations on the topic.

Keywords

Organic products, genetically modified, maize, crops, soybean, coexistence, supply chain, international trade, labelling

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