The report, published on Friday, says the EUs experience with the cultivation of GM crops is limited, and that the introduction of national co-existence measures must first be completed before EU-wide measures are undertaken.
Co-existence measures are the subject of a Commission Recommendation from July 2003. According to the EC, they are designed to ensure that GM crops can be grown along with non-GM crops without negative economic consequences caused by accidental mixing of the two.
The development of efficient and cost-effective strategies to ensure co-existence is vital to ensure a practical choice between GM and non-GM produce for farmers and consumers. This is not a question of health or environmental protection, because no GMOs are allowed on the EU market unless they have been proved to be completely safe, said Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for agriculture and rural development.
To ensure that consumers know exactly what they are buying the EU has developed an advanced labelling and traceability system for GMOs. Segregation measures must be in place to ensure that accidental traces of GMOs in conventional or organic products are kept within the strict ranges defined by EU legislation. Growing conditions are very varied from country to country and experience with GM crops is still limited in Europe. It therefore does not seem appropriate to propose unified EU rules at this time.
However, before any decision is taken, an EC conference to discuss the issue, co-hosted with the Austrian presidency, is to be held in Vienna on 5-6 April. Following the conference, the Commission will decide if any further action needs to be taken at EU level.
Co-existence and cross-contamination of conventional and organic crops by GM material has led to heated discussions at both national and European levels with environmental groups pushing for zero tolerance of the material in GM seeds. Opponents to GM crops believe allowing GM seeds will lead to contamination of the food chain that will be difficult to control by farmers and food makers.
And setting the threshold of unavoidable' traces of GM seeds in other products - how much GM material may be tolerated without labelling in batches of conventional seed has been at the core of discussions in Brussels.
Commercial cultivation of GM crops in the EU has so far been limited to two types of GM maize. In Spain, GM maize cultivation amounted to 58,000 hectares in 2004, or about 12 per cent of total Spanish maize cultivation. In other Member States, cultivation is limited to a few hundred hectares. In Spain, GM maize has been grown since 1998 under a non-binding code of good practice.
The Commissions 2003 Recommendation provides guidelines for the development of national strategies and best practices, to help member states develop national legislative or other strategies for co-existence.
Most EU countries are still developing national approaches, with specific co-existence legislation adopted in four member states- Germany, Denmark, Portugal and six of the Austrian Lnder- by the end of 2005. But the EC says that monitoring programmes still have to be set up and implemented in order to verify the effectiveness and economic feasibility of the measures taken.