Storing seeds adequately and applying isolation distances are the most effective way to prevent the co-mingling of genetically modified (GM), conventional and organic maize seeds, according to a report prepared by the European Coexistence Bureau (ECoB). Published by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) and backed by a group of stakeholders, the 'Best Practice Document' also outlines how alternative measures, such as shifting flowering times of GM and non-GM fields (i.e. temporal isolation), can be used in EU Member States that have the right climatic conditions. 'The suggested practices contained in this important document are applicable within the framework of the (European) Commission's new approach to coexistence and GMO (genetically modified organism) cultivation adopted in July,' said Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy John Dalli, who presented the report to the Agricultural Council. 'They are in full accordance with the spirit and aims of the proposal, which provides Member States with more flexibility to organise the coexistence of GM, conventional and organic crops. This document details a set of non-binding practices, which aim to assist Member States [to] develop and refine their national or regional approaches to coexistence.' The report focuses on three types of productions - sweet maize, grain and whole plant - as regards the cultivation and initial sale of GM maize. Following their assessment of the potential mingling sources, members of the ECoB established the best agricultural management practices capable of guaranteeing coexistence while maintaining the farm's economic and agronomic efficiency. Established in 2008 to create crop-specific guidelines for coexistence and identify best practices for technical segregation measures, the ECoB says isolation distances of between 15 to 50 metres could help curb GMO content in conventional food and feed, seeing levels drop below 0.9% (i.e. the legal labelling threshold). These distances could also diminish cross-pollination between GM maize and non-GM maize. The group also notes how larger distances of between 100 to 500 metres could be used for lower mingling level targets (e.g. 0.1%, the standard estimate for quantification limits). On a global scale, GM crops were cultivated on 134 million hectares in 2009. The top three countries cultivating such crops are the US (48% of GMO area worldwide), Brazil (16%) and Argentina (16%). The EU permits only two GM maize products, and one GM potato for cultivation. This latest document effectively gives EU Member States the means to adapt the measures to their specific regional and local conditions. It should be noted that the European Commission recently agreed to a proposal giving EU Member States the right to limit, allow or ban GMO cultivation, while ensuring the EU's GM authorisation system. 'Granting genuine freedom on grounds other than those based on a scientific assessment of health and environmental risks also necessitates a change to the current legislation,' Commissioner Dalli said in July. 'A very thorough safety assessment and a reinforced monitoring system are priorities in GMO cultivation and are therefore being pursued vigorously. The (European) Commission is committed to follow up actions on them before the end of the year.'
Argentina, Brazil, United States