GMO free seed is a precondition for GMO free production
| Author: Antje Kolling
9 May 2010 - Issue : 884
Within the EU, the option of establishing labelling thresholds for the adventitious presence (AP) of genetically engineered (GE) organisms in conventional and organic seed has been under discussion for several years. It can be expected that the Commission will come up with a legal proposal for a labelling regime between 2010 and 2014.
To contribute to the debate, the IFOAM EU Group has launched a study on the economic impacts of different labelling thresholds in an event hosted by MEP Corinne Lepage (ALDE Group) in the European Parliament on 26 April - which coincided with the day when new cases of GMO contamination in maize seed have become public in Germany. The authors Christoph Then, testbiotech, and Matthias Stolze, FibL presented the study, referring to the most recent case – Triffid Flax - where seed contamination caused tremendous costs for operators throughout the food chain.
The study presents data enriched by detailed case studies affording an overview of the costs associated with avoiding GE components in food production. The study clearly shows that the level of the labelling threshold will have profound impacts on the future of farming with respect to the possibility of co-existence and consumer choice: co-existence costs for farmers and the entire food chain will be influenced by the level of seed purity. A labelling threshold above zero would allow contamination with GE organisms to become permanently entrenched at the seed level, threatening existing EU food markets that rely on segregation, traceability and transparency. It would increase costs for maintaining co-existence and also bring about financial losses for farms and processors. Consumer choice would be narrowed, and in some market segments even completely eliminated. To some extent the tasks of the risk manager would be impacted.
The study concludes that, due to the fact that the area used for seed production is only a small fraction of total agricultural land, it may be assumed that overall segregation costs for the whole food production chain can be kept smaller if the strictest measures are applied to seed production, where they are comparatively low-cost. Pure seed is not only essential for the whole food sector, but also the basis for the European risk manager to withdraw a genetically modified organism in a reasonable period of time in the eventuality that new scientific evidence shows unexpected threats to human health and/or the environment. As these points are of societal relevance, seed protection mechanisms should be accompanied by an appropriate legal framework to protect seed producers from contamination; EU funding to support seed producers to keep seed free from GE seed could be considered.
Antje Kölling is Policy coordinator IFOAM EU Group