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Content archived on 2024-05-29

GM and non-GM supply chains : their CO-EXistence and TRAceability

Final Report Summary - CO-EXTRA (GM and non-GM supply chains: their co-existence and traceability)

The ultimate aim of the CO-EXTRA project was to provide all the stakeholders of the food and feed chains with a central decision-support system integrating the tools, methods, models and guidelines needed to deal with the imminent arrival of large quantities of Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), further to the lift of the current de facto ban on GMOs in European Union (EU). CO-EXTRA would study and validate biological containment methods and model supply chain organisations and provide practical tools and methods for implementing coexistence. In parallel, the project would design and integrate GMO detection tools, develop sampling plans, and elaborate new techniques to meet the challenges raised by increased demands for cost-effective multiplex methods to detect as yet unapproved or unexamined GMOs (e.g. with stacked genes). The project would also study and propose the most appropriate information structure, content and flow management for ensuring reliable and cost-effective documentary traceability. All of the methods and tools that would be studied and developed would be assessed not only from the technical point of view but also with regard to economic and legal aspects. In parallel, to promote harmonisation of coexistence and traceability practices around the world, the GMO-related legal regimes and practices that exist in and beyond the EU would be surveyed. Stakeholders would be involved in the project from the start through the dialogue platform, editorial offices, focus groups, national relays.

CO-EXTRA outcomes would contribute to reinforcing consumers' confidence in labelling claims and therefore EU products at large. By helping economic stakeholders to meet consumers' requirements for reliable choices, the European competitiveness would be improved. The outcomes would also be proposed to standardisation after validation. Dissemination activities would largely benefit from the strong commitment of the European Network of GMO Laboratories.

The documentary (ISO definition of traceability) and analytical traceability studied were two tools necessary for both managing the coexistence of supply chains and for controlling the results of this management.

For the first time, the whole issue of coexistence of GM and non-GM supply chains was addressed by examining the practices of the supply chains from seed production to retailers' shelves with practical implementation tools, such as documentary and analytical tools for supporting coexistence of supply chains. This coordinated and fruitful way of working was possible only due to the size of this Integrated Project (IP). In this way, the launch of such large research projects should be continued and small, fragmented research projects should be avoided where possible. It seemed that GM and non-GM supply chains coexistence, even at the farm level, could be addressed by studying its different components separately. Coexistence issues have to be addressed by multidisciplinary teams.

CO-EXTRA underlined several basic economic and legal facts. Coexistence cannot exist without an economic valorisation of the whole supply chain which could imply, for instance, labelling of animals fed with and / or without GMOs. Coexistence also cannot exist without a sustainable availability of low-cost non-GM seeds integrating the latest genetic improvements.

More specifically, if CO-EXTRA focused on coexistence of GMO and non-GMO supply chains, its results could apply to most of supply chains with quality and/or safety requirements. Generally speaking, the methods, strategies, tools, models developed for GM and non-GM supply chains coexistence and traceability would be used in the management of numerous other supply chains, value added and niche markets, as well as for detecting and excluding harmful products, such as allergens and mycotoxin producing organisms or pathogens.

Traceability (on both analytical and documentary viewpoints) is a major segregation tool, for coexistence. Traceability was studied on a regulatory viewpoint and also for its economic and social function: allowing trust to be established between actors and activities presenting risks for admixture. It was shown that, at the intersection of knowledge and risk, legal systems were trying to establish confidence in a society that links the two.

CO-EXTRA conducted experimental work, pollen flow models and economic analyses to provide information for optimising segregation strategies upstream and downstream. The project released numerous technical and legal results aimed at the optimisation of coexistence and traceability procedures and costs.

New strategies for detecting stacked or unapproved GMOs were also developed. The EU unapproved GMO (UGM) remained an issue which should be globally considered. Detection methods were developed which are applicable by routine or research laboratories, depending on the UGM status, safety reasons and costs to be engaged according to competent authorities' decisions. However, developing detection methods for detecting UGM are not of the remits of the Community reference laboratory for GM food and feed (CRL-GMFF). CO-EXTRA showed that such developments for detecting as a whole UGM were manageable. It thus seemed important to modify the mandate of CRL-GMFF to let it develop and validate generic methods for detecting UGM, i.e. screening and construct specific GMO, as well as taxa including donor organism detection methods. The corresponding strategies, decision support system and any tool able to harmonise reporting and decision making should be also included in the new remits.

The project constituted the first attempt to take into account the several stakeholders' practices, from seeds to shelves, through consumer surveys, companies' interviews and stakeholder focus groups, in order to develop practical solutions. The current practices in the EU and third countries were explored, as well as the traders' practices, the bottlenecks and the proposed solutions. CO-EXTRA described the processes, developed models and strategies and tested several ones.

Furthermore, it was confirmed that stakeholders are generally using a practical contractual threshold of approximately 0.1 %, well below the 0.9 % European labelling threshold. That means that the coexistence between open pollinated crops is only possible by using either large distance of isolation or production of GM and non-GM products in dedicated areas, as determined by the models developed in the SIGMEA project. The technical and legal definitions of such dedicated production areas remained open.