Friday, March 03, 2006

Co-Existence


In the EU, the segregation of 3 crops - traditional, organic, and genetically modified (GM) - is known as coexistence. Back in 2003, Dr Franz Fischler of the European Commission (Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries) announced a roundtable on research results relating to the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops, and in July of that year, a set of non-binding Guidelines for the development of strategies and best practices were published. These Guidelines have formed the basis for specific coexistence laws in only 4 member states to date, but have been reported as placing heavy burdens on GM farmers. Nevertheless, it could be argued that the assumption of environmental risk must necessarily rest with those maintaining the minimal nature of that risk. Of particular interest, given current events in Canada (class actions against Monsanto for loss of organic certification), the various laws try to take account of such problems - either through general compensation schemes or through insurance against economic loss.

There were some indications of a harmonised European egal framework for later this year, with EU Agriculture Commissioner Fischer-Boel (pictured) opening the France Biotechnology Exploring Coexistence Conference (November 2005) by re-affirming the priority of addressing co-existence. However, it seems that these developments have stalled (as reported by Jeremy Smith, Reuters). According to Smith, a document drafted by the Commission (Agriculture) states that "The limited experience and the need to conclude the process of implementing national coexistence measures do not seem to justify the development of a dedicated harmonised legislative approach at the present time."

Europe continues to present a difficult market for GM, but a possibly commercially and culturally important cache of unique products (in organic and traditional agriculture). Therefore, the prospect of laws for coexistence remain of critical interest to farmers, industry, environmentalists, and consumers. The document is due to be released, March 10.

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