Transgenic Research

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 317–335 | Cite as

Definition and feasibility of isolation distances for transgenic maize cultivation

  • Olivier SanvidoEmail author
  • Franco Widmer
  • Michael Winzeler
  • Bernhard Streit
  • Erich Szerencsits
  • Franz Bigler
Original Paper


A major concern related to the adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops in agricultural systems is the possibility of unwanted GM inputs into non-GM crop production systems. Given the increasing commercial cultivation of GM crops in the European Union (EU), there is an urgent need to define measures to prevent mixing of GM with non-GM products during crop production. Cross-fertilization is one of the various mechanisms that could lead to GM-inputs into non-GM crop systems. Isolation distances between GM and non-GM fields are widely accepted to be an effective measure to reduce these inputs. However, the question of adequate isolation distances between GM and non-GM maize is still subject of controversy both amongst scientists and regulators. As several European countries have proposed largely differing isolation distances for maize ranging from 25 to 800 m, there is a need for scientific criteria when using cross-fertilization data of maize to define isolation distances between GM and non-GM maize. We have reviewed existing cross-fertilization studies in maize, established relevant criteria for the evaluation of these studies and applied these criteria to define science-based isolation distances. To keep GM-inputs in the final product well below the 0.9% threshold defined by the EU, isolation distances of 20 m for silage and 50 m for grain maize, respectively, are proposed. An evaluation using statistical data on maize acreage and an aerial photographs assessment of a typical agricultural landscape by means of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) showed that spatial resources would allow applying the defined isolation distances for the cultivation of GM maize in the majority of the cases under actual Swiss agricultural conditions. The here developed approach, using defined criteria to consider the agricultural context of maize cultivation, may be of assistance for the analysis of cross-fertilization data in other countries.


Genetically modified crops Pollen-mediated gene flow Coexistence Cross-fertilization Bt-maize GIS 



We would like to thank Michael Bannert and Peter Stamp for the possibility to use their data in preparation for publication on cross-fertilization in maize under Swiss agricultural conditions. The Swiss Federal Statistical Office is acknowledged for providing data from the farm structure survey. We further thank Lena Obrist for help on an early draft of the manuscript.


  1. ACRE (2002) Background paper: gene flow from genetically modified crops. DEFRA report. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs––Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment, LondonGoogle Scholar
  2. Angevin F, Klein E, Choimet C, Meynard JM, de Rouw A, Sohbi Y (2001) Modélisation des effets des systèmes de culture et du climat sur les pollinisations croisées chez le maïs: le modèle MAPOD. Rapport du groupe 3 du programme de recherche “Pertinence économique et faisabilité d’une filière sans utilisations d’OGM”. INRA––FNSEA, ParisGoogle Scholar
  3. Aylor DE (2004) Survival of maize (Zea mays) pollen exposed in the atmosphere. Agric For Meteorol 123:125–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aylor DE, Schultes NP, Shields EJ (2003) An aerobiological framework for assessing cross-pollination in maize. Agric For Meteorol 119:111–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bannert M (2006) Simulation of transgenic pollen dispersal by use of different grain colour maize. Thesis, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ZurichGoogle Scholar
  6. Bannert M, Stamp P (2007) Cross-pollination of maize at long distance. Eur J Agron 27:44–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bannert M, Stössel F, Orsini E, Stamp P, Soldati A (2003) Fremdbefruchtung bei Mais: Eine realistische Simulation transgenen Pollenflugs. Bericht über die Versuchstätigkeit 2001–2003. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ZurichGoogle Scholar
  8. Bateman AJ (1947) Contamination of seed crops II. Wind pollination. Heredity 1:235–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bénétrix F, Bloc D (2003) Maïs OGM et non OGM––possible coexistence. Perspect Agricoles 294:14–17Google Scholar
  10. Bénétrix F, Bloc D, Foueillassar X, Naïbo B (2003) A study to evaluate co-existence of GM and conventional maize on the same farm. In: Boelt B (ed) Proceedings of the GMCC-03––1st European Conference on Co-existence of Genetically Modified Crops with Conventional and Organic Crops, Helsingør, 13–14 November 2003, 204 ppGoogle Scholar
  11. BFS (2003) Farm structure survey. Swiss Federal Statistical Office, NeuchâtelGoogle Scholar
  12. Bock AK, Lheureux K, Libeau-Dulos M, Nilsagård H, Rodriguez-Cerezo E (2002) Scenarios for co-existence of genetically modified, conventional and organic crops in European agriculture. Technical Report Series of the Joint Research Center of the European Commission. Institute for prospective technological studies, SevillaGoogle Scholar
  13. Brookes G, Barfoot P, Melé E, Messeguer J, Benetrix F, Bloc D et al (2004) Genetically modified maize: pollen movement and crop co-existence. PG Economics, DorchesterGoogle Scholar
  14. Burris JS (2001) Adventitious pollen intrusion into hybrid maize seed production fields. In: Proceedings of the 56th Annual Corn and Sorghum Research Conference, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  15. Byrne PF, Fromherz S (2003) Can GM and non-GM crops coexist? Setting a precedent in Boulder County, Colorado, USA. Food Agric Env 1:258–261Google Scholar
  16. Das KGS (1983) Vicinity distance studies of hybrid seed production in maize (Zea mays L.) at Bangalore. Mysore J Agric Sci 20:340Google Scholar
  17. Della Porta G, Ederle D, Bucchini L, Prandi M, Pozzi C, Verderio A (2006) Gene flow between neighboring maize fields in the Po valley. CEDAB––Centro documentazione agrobiotecnologie, MilanGoogle Scholar
  18. Devos Y, Reheul D, de Schrijver A (2005) The co-existence between transgenic and non-transgenic maize in the European Union: a focus on pollen flow and cross-fertilization. Environ Biosafety Res 4:71–87PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Di Giovanni F, Kevan PG, Nasr ME (1995) The variability in settling velocities of some pollen and spores. Grana 34:39–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Duvick DN (2005) The contribution of breeding to yield advances in maize (Zea mays L.). Adv Agr 86:83–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Eastham K, Sweet J (2002) Genetically modified organisms (GMOs): The significance of gene flow through pollen transfer. Environmental Issue Report No. 28. European Environment Agency, CopenhagenGoogle Scholar
  22. European Commission (2003) Commission Recommendation of 23 July 2003 on guidelines for the development of national strategies and best practices to ensure the coexistence of genetically modified crops with conventional and organic farming. Commission of the European Communities, BrusselsGoogle Scholar
  23. European Commission (2004) Inscription of MON 810 GM maize varieties in the Common EU Catalogue of Varieties. Press release IP/04/1083. Available via Cited 9 Aug 2004Google Scholar
  24. European Community (2000) Directive 2000/13/EC of the European Parliament and of the council of 20 March 2000 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs. European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, BrusselsGoogle Scholar
  25. European Community (2001) Directive 2001/18/EC of the European Parliament and of the council of 12 March 2001 on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms and repealing Council Directive 90/220/EEC. European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, BrusselsGoogle Scholar
  26. European Union (2003a) Regulation (EC) No. 1829/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2003 on genetically modified food and feed. European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, BrusselsGoogle Scholar
  27. European Union (2003b) Regulation (EC) No. 1830/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2003 concerning the traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms and the traceability of food and feed products produced from genetically modified organisms and amending Directive 2001/18/EC. European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, BrusselsGoogle Scholar
  28. Feil B, Schmid JE (2002) Dispersal of maize, wheat and rye pollen: a contribution to determining the necessary isolation distances for the cultivation of transgenic crops. Shaker Verlag, AachenGoogle Scholar
  29. Fonseca AE, Lizaso JI, Westgate ME, Grass L, Dornbos DL (2004) Simulating potential kernel production in maize hybrid seed fields. Crop Sci 44:1696–1709CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fonseca AE, Westgate ME (2005) Relationship between desiccation and viability of maize pollen. Field Crops Res 94:114–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Foueillassar X, Fabié A (2003) Waxy maize production, an experiment evaluating the co-existence of GM and conventional maize. Poster presented at the GMCC-03-1st European Conference on Co-existence of Genetically Modified Crops with Conventional and organic Crops, Helsingør, 13–14 November 2003 Google Scholar
  32. Garcia M, Figueroa J, Gomez R, Townsend R, Schoper J (1998) Pollen control during transgenic hybrid maize development in Mexico. Crop Sci 38:1597–1602CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. (2002) Out-crossing from transgenic maize and quantifying outcrossing rates. Available via Cited 15 Aug 2002Google Scholar
  34. (2004) Spanish study of maize and outcrossing––large fields remain below the threshold. Available via Cited 12 Mar 2004Google Scholar
  35. GMO compass (2007). Available via Scholar
  36. GMO safety (2006) Coexistence in the countries of the EU––a European patchwork. Available via Scholar
  37. Gruber S, Pekrun C, Claupein W (2004) Population dynamics of volunteer oilseed rape (Brassica napus L.) affected by tillage. Eur J Agron 20:351–361CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. GTG (SR 814.91) Bundesgesetz über die Gentechnik im Ausserhumanbereich (Gentechnikgesetz). Systematische Sammlung des Bundesrechts, BernGoogle Scholar
  39. Henry C, Morgan D, Weeks R, Daniels RE, Boffey C (2003) Farm scale evaluations of GM crops: monitoring gene flow from GM crops to non-GM equivalent crops in the vicinity––Part I. Forage maize. DEFRA report. Central Science Laboratory Sand Hutton, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, DorchesterGoogle Scholar
  40. Ingram J (2000) The separation distances required to ensure cross-pollination is below specified limits in non-seed crops of sugar beet, maize and oilseed rape. Plant Var Seeds 13:181–199Google Scholar
  41. Jemison JM, Vayda ME (2001) Cross pollination from genetically engineered corn: wind transport and seed source. AgBioForum 4:87–92Google Scholar
  42. Jones MD and Brooks JS (1950) Effectiveness of distance and border rows preventing outcrossing in corn. Technical Bulletin No. T-38. Oklahoma Agricultural Experimental StationGoogle Scholar
  43. Jones MD and Brooks JS (1952) Effect of tree barriers on outcrossing in corn. Technical Bulletin No. T-45. Oklahoma Agricultural Experimental StationGoogle Scholar
  44. Klein EK, Lavigne C, Foueillassar X, Gouyon PH, Laredo C (2003) Corn pollen dispersal: Quasi-mechanistic models and field experiments. Ecol Monogr 73:131–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. LGV (SR 817.02) Lebensmittel- und Gebrauchsgegenständeverordnung. Systematische Sammlung des Bundesrechts, BernGoogle Scholar
  46. Lizaso JI, Westgate ME, Batchelor WD, Fonseca A (2003) Predicting potential kernel set in maize from simple flowering characteristics. Crop Sci 43:892–903CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Luna S, Figueroa J, Baltazar B, Gomez R, Townsend R, Schoper JB (2001) Maize pollen longevity and distance isolation requirements for effective pollen control. Crop Sci 41:1551–1557CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Ma BL, Subedi K, Evenson L, Stewart G (2005) Evaluation of detection methods for genetically modified traits in genotypes resistant to European corn borer and herbicides. J Environ Sci Health B 40:633–644PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Ma BL, Subedi KD, Reid LM (2004) Extent of cross-fertilization in maize by pollen from neighboring transgenic hybrids. Crop Sci 44:1273–1282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Matsuo K, Amano K, Shibaike H, Yoshimura Y, Kawashima S, Uesugi S et al (2004) Pollen dispersal and outcrossing in Zea mays populations: a simple identification of hybrids detected by xenia using conventional corn in simulation of transgene dispersion of GM corn. In: Proceedings of the 8th International Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms, Montpellier, 26–30 September 2004, pp 282Google Scholar
  51. Meier-Bethke S and Schiemann J (2003) Effect of varying distances and intervening maize fields on outcrossing rates of transgenic maize. In: Boelt B (ed) Proceedings of the GMCC-03––1st European Conference on Co-existence of Genetically Modified Crops with Conventional and Organic Crops, Helsingør, 13–14 November 2003, pp 77–78Google Scholar
  52. Messéan A (1999) Impact du développement des plantes transgéniques dans les systèmes de culture––rapport final. dossier no.96/15-B––Impact des plantes transgéniques. CETIOM––Centre Technique Interprofessionnel des Oléagineux MétropolitainsGoogle Scholar
  53. Messéan A, Angevin F, Gomez-Barbero M, Menrad K, Rodriguez Cerezo E (2006) New case studies on the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops in European Agriculture. Technical Report Series of the Joint Research Center of the European Commission. Institute for prospective technological studies, SevillaGoogle Scholar
  54. Messeguer J, Ballester J, Peñas G, Olivar J, Alcalde E, Melé E (2003) Evaluation of gene flow in a commercial field of maize. In: Boelt B (ed) Proceedings of the GMCC-03––1st European Conference on Co-existence of Genetically Modified Crops with Conventional and Organic Crops, Helsingør, 13–14 November 2003, 220 ppGoogle Scholar
  55. Messeguer J, Penas G, Ballester J, Bas M, Serra J, Salvia J et al (2006) Pollen-mediated gene flow in maize in real situations of coexistence. Plant Biotechnol J 4:633–645PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Narayanaswamy S, Jagadish GV, Ujjinaiah US (1997) Determination of isolation distance for hybrid maize seed production. Curr Res 26:193–195Google Scholar
  57. Pekrun C, Hewitt JDJ, Lutman PJW (1998) Cultural control of volunteer oilseed rape (Brassica napus). J Agric Sci 130:155–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Pla M, La Paz JL, Penas G, Garcia N, Palaudelmas M, Esteve T et al (2006) Assessment of real-time PCR based methods for quantification of pollen-mediated gene flow from GM to conventional maize in a field study. Transgen Res 15:219–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. POECB (2004) Operational programme for evaluation of biotechnology crops (POECB). ARVALIS Institut du végétal, Montardon, FranceGoogle Scholar
  60. Poehlman JM, Sleper DA (1995) Breeding field crops, 4th edn. Blackwell Publishing, Ames IAGoogle Scholar
  61. Raynor GS, Ogden EC, Hayes JV (1972) Dispersion and deposition of corn pollen from experimental sources. Agron J 64:420–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Salamov AB (1940) About isolation in corn (title translated from Russian; original: O prostranstwennoi isoljazii kukuruzy). Selekcija i semenovodstvo 3:25–27Google Scholar
  63. Sanvido O, Widmer F, Winzeler M, Streit B, Szerencsits E, Bigler F (2005) Konzept für die Koexistenz verschiedener landwirtschaftlicher Anbausysteme mit und ohne Gentechnik in der Schweiz. Schriftenreihe der FAL Nr. 55. Agroscope FAL Reckenholz, Eidgenössische Forschungsanstalt für Agrarökologie und Landbau, ZürichGoogle Scholar
  64. Schüpbach B, Szerencsits E, Walter T (2003) Integration von Infrarot-Ortholuftbilddaten zur Modellierung einer nachhaltigen Landwirtschaft. In: Strobl J, Blaschke T, Griesebner G (eds) Angewandte Geographische Informationsverarbeitung, Vol. 15. Wichmann, Heidelberg, pp 481–490Google Scholar
  65. Sundstrom FJ, Williams J, van Deynze A, Bradford K (2002) Identity preservation of agricultural commodities. University of California––Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, DavisGoogle Scholar
  66. Szerencsits E, Schüpbach B, Buholzer S, Walter T, Zgraggen K, Flury C (2004) Landschaftstypen und Biotopverbund. Agrarforschung 11:428–433Google Scholar
  67. Tolstrup K, Andersen S, Boelt B, Buus M, Gylling M, Holm P et al (2003) Report from the Danish working group on the co-existence of genetically modified crops with conventional and organic crops. Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries––Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences, CopenhagenGoogle Scholar
  68. van Dijk J (2004) Co-existence in the primary sector. Report by the temporary committee chaired by J. van Dijk, committee members: Biologica, LTO Nederland, Plantum NL, Platform Aarde Boer Consument. The HagueGoogle Scholar
  69. Weber WE, Bringezu T, Broer I, Eder J, Holz F (2007) Coexistence between GM and non-GM maize crops––tested in 2004 at the field scale level (Erprobungsanbau 2004). J Agron Crop Sci 193(2):79–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Weighardt F (2006) European GMO labeling thresholds impractical and unscientific. Nat Biotechnol 24:23–25PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Wolt JD, Shyy YY, Christensen PJ, Dorman KS, Misra M (2004) Quantitative exposure assessment for confinement of maize biogenic systems. Environ Biosafety Res 3:183–196PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Yamamura K (2004) Dispersal distance of corn pollen under fluctuating diffusion coefficient. Pop Ecol 46:87–101Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Olivier Sanvido
    • 1
    Email author
  • Franco Widmer
    • 1
  • Michael Winzeler
    • 1
  • Bernhard Streit
    • 1
  • Erich Szerencsits
    • 1
  • Franz Bigler
    • 1
  1. 1.Agroscope Reckenholz-Tänikon Research Station ARTZurichSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations