A new report setting out best practice for segregating GM and conventional maize has been presented to the Agriculture Council, but plans to allow member states to decide on GMO planting in their own territory proved controversial.
In July the European Commission adopted a proposal that gives members states the freedom to allow, restrict or ban cultivation of GMOs on their territory. The proposal, which will go through a co-decision process, is intended to end the deadlock which has seen only one new approval for cultivation in 13 years.
However the plan has been criticised by both anti-GMO states and more pro-GMO states as promoting fragmentation within the single market, and being potential incompatible with rules set by the WTO.
"It is not in one or two months that we can reach a compromise. The issue will be subject to long negotiations," Belgian Agriculture Minister and EU Agriculture Council president Sabine Laruelle is quoted as saying by Euractiv.com.
It is expected that the proposal may have to be radically altered in order to make it through the co-decision process.
Space is best
In the midst of this less-than-warm reception, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy John Dalli presented a report providing guidance on specific measures for storing and isolation distances can limit or avoid co-mingling of crops.
The suggested practices – which are non-binding – are meant to help member states develop or refine their national or regional policies. It includes a best practice guide covering GM maize up to the first point of sale and covering grain, whole plant and sweet maize, and was prepared by the European Co-Existence Bureau, which was set up in 2008.
Amongst other practices, it suggests segregation distances of 15 to 50m to reduce cross-pollination between GM and non-GM maize and in order to keep GMOs in conventional food and feed to below the legal labelling level of 0.9 per cent.
For lower targets of admixture distances of 100 – 500m would be required.
Temporal segregation – that is, shifting cycles so that GM and non-GM crops do not flower at the same time – may also work in some member states, depending on climatic conditions.
While GMO cultivation has entered the mainstream in other parts of the world, such as USA, Brazil and Argentina, in Europe only three crops can presently be grown: Two GM maize crops and one potato authorised only in March.
Member states that have been traditionally anti-GM include France and Italy, whereas Germany, the UK and Poland have tended towards a pro-GM stance.
The new best practice document for reducing risk of mingling can be found at http://ecob.jrc.ec.europa.eu/documents.html