Food Law News - EU - 2002

Commission Press Release (IP/02/244), 13 February, 2002

GM FOOD - Farm Commissioner Fischler calls for end of "muddling-through policy"

Speaking on biotechnology at the AGRIBEX Food Fair in Brussels today, Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, warned that Europe could be left behind on new technologies. "Europe lacks a shared vision and a common objective regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Currently, our response to the challenges of GMOs is "muddling-through". We have to stop making decisions on such a difficult issue as biotechnology on a purely emotional basis. It is high time that Europe finds a way to address questions, such as: "Can we eat food that has been genetically modified?", "Do GMOs represent a threat to the environment?", "Could the use of GM seeds have a negative impact on other plants?". This is reflected in the recently presented Life Science and Biotechnology Strategy of the European Commission (see IP/02/122). The Commissioner labelled the consumers role in this context as "absolutely paramount". "Agriculture today is demand driven, and we will not be able to sell our products if we do not win the confidence of the consumers." Fischler called for a policy which protects farmers who grow conventional or organic crops from accidental GMO-contamination. "In the future, the conventional farms will have to follow the example of organic farming. Farms will have to segregate production and marketing chains, introduce minimum distances but also different sowing dates between GM and non-GM crop varieties.", he said.

"The consumer must be free to choose between GM and non-GM products. In order to do so, we have to introduce an EU-wide labelling system. However, the labelling will be worthless if we do not manage to segregate GM and GM-free on the fields of European farmers", he underlined. He explained that the Commission had already brought forward a coherent strategy on how to deal with GMOs, including clear labelling provision for consumers.

Research has made clear that the situation differs considerably according to the crop. For potatoes, for instance, co-existence does not present a big problem with the thresholds of our existing GMO draft regulations. On the other hand, for maize, changes in farming practices are needed to keep adventitious presence below the threshold. And for seed production of oilseed rape, the necessary changes in farming practices can be substantial, and their costs may be fairly high. This makes co-existence difficult from a technical as well as an economic point of view.

For organic farming, the situation is particularly difficult. On the one hand, European consumers expect organic food to be completely free of GMOs. On the other, organic farms may in some cases face a higher probability of adventitious presence of GMOs than conventional farms. However, it seems that accidental contamination with GMOs is lower on organic farms because separate production and marketing channels already exist for organic produce.

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