EP News Report, 3 December 2003
As part of the ongoing debate on the difficulties of separating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from conventional organisms in food and animal feed, the Agriculture Committee adopted on Tuesday a highly contested own-initiative report on coexistence between GMOs and conventional crops. In general terms, MEPs are demanding stricter and more effective protection for organic and conventional farmers against accidental contamination of their crops and seeds. They highlight the need for EU common regulations on coexistence (instead of leaving the issue under subsidiarity rules, as the Commission suggested recently) and argue that GMO producers should have some kind of civil liability for any contamination of organic and conventional products. Efforts by some EPP-ED members to soften the tone of the report and allow more freedom to farmers producing genetically modified crops were rejected.
The Agriculture Committee also rejected proposals by some MEPs that subsidiarity should apply to legislation on coexistence and called instead "for rules to be established without delay at Community level on the coexistence of genetically modified crops and non-genetically modified crops". MEPs also asked for the European Parliament to be included in this process under the codecision procedure. The resolution adds that Member States should have the free choice to restrict GMO cultivation in certain geographical areas if they wish.
GMOs in seed production
A new EU directive of June 2003 introduced a tolerance level of 0.9% of accidental GMOs in conventional crops. Should this threshold be exceeded, the producer will have to indicate it on the product label. MEPs support this measure but also share one of the main concerns among farmers: the potential presence of minute traces of GMOs in conventional seeds, which makes it practically impossible today to achieve 100% non-genetically modified crops. The European Commission has recently drafted guidelines suggesting a tolerance level for the adventitious presence of GMOs in seeds (between 0.3% and 0.7%, depending on the type of seed). In the text adopted today, the Members say that a limit value for the labelling of GMO impurities in seed should be set and they "call on the Commission to stipulate the labelling of GMOs in seed at the technically reliable detection threshold". The rapporteur Friedrich-Wilhelm GRAEFE zu BARINGDORF (Greens/EFA, D) - an organic farmer himself - had suggested a threshold limit of 0.1%, in order to "guarantee the purity" of the seeds but he presented an oral amendment at the last minute to delete this percentage from the text, due to the lack of consensus among MEPs. No other threshold limit in seeds has been suggested.
MEPs also urge the Commission to bring forward "a proposal on Community-wide
civil liability and insurance in respect of possible financial damage in connection
with coexistence". Another recommendation adopted by the committee "calls
on the Commission and the Member States to include workable and legally enforceable
civil liability provisions for sufficient insurance cover on the part of the
applicant as a component of the authorisation procedure for placing GMOs on
the market, so that claims by persons affected can be dealt with adequately
and quickly in the event of damage".