, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 11-30

Coexistence of genetically modified (GM) and non-GM crops in the European Union. A review

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The adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops in the European Union (EU) raises questions on the feasibility of coexistence between GM and non-GM crops. Regulations to ensure that different cropping systems can develop side-by-side without excluding any agricultural option are currently implemented or developed by member states. The aim of this review is to explore whether nationally or regionally proposed coexistence strategies comply with the general principles established by the European Commission that ask for science-based and proportionate coexistence measures. In the first part, existing legal requirements and potential sources of adventitious mixing are reviewed. It is discussed what type of coexistence measures might be necessary to keep GM inputs below the legal tolerance threshold of 0.9%. Concentrating on cross-fertilisation as the major biological source of adventitious mixing in maize, it is then assessed to which extent available scientific data on cross-fertilisation can explain the diversity of currently proposed isolation distances by several member states. In the second part, it is analysed whether currently proposed isolation distances reflect contending policy objectives towards GM crops that largely exceed the economic scope of coexistence. It is investigated how coexistence is intersecting with a wider debate about the role of GM crops in agriculture. Based on the analysis of existing cross-fertilisation data, it is concluded that some of the currently proposed isolation distances are not in line with the coexistence principles laid down by the European Commission: they are (i) excessive from a scientific point of view; (ii) difficult to implement in practice; (iii) rarely proportional to the regional heterogeneity in the agricultural landscape; and (iv) not proportional to the farmers’ basic economic incentives for coexistence. Hence, the range of proposed isolation distances cannot simply be explained by different interpretations of available scientific data, possible error intervals and remaining uncertainties inherent in the scientific process. It is argued that other than scientific issues must be at play. One might thus claim that coexistence has become an arena of contending values and visions on the future of agriculture and on the role GM crops might play therein.