13. Recommendations for the decision-making processes relating to the market release of GM crops under progress can be derived from SIGMEA outcomes
Although gene flow is a common phenomenon for crop species, its implications for Genetically Modified Plants have raised new concerns. Undesirable effects related to gene flow may result in ecological or agronomic considerations (persistence of resistant volunteers, creation of new weeds, multiple resistances) as well as commercial considerations (unintended presence of GMOs in conventional crop production affecting its competitiveness in the marketplace). The coexistence between different types of crops is an important issue and has to be addressed once GM crops are approved in the EU. The European Union has issued guidelines designed to allow for the coexistence of various kinds of agriculture in support of its policy that “farmers should be able to cultivate freely the agricultural crops they choose, be it GM, conventional or organic” (Recommendation 2003/556/EC). New GMO regulations have been introduced as a basis for Member states to develop appropriate coexistence and traceability measures for delivery of food and feedstuffs complying with the labelling thresholds.
SIGMEA has produced a practical toolbox for addressing GM impacts in agriculture:
Altogether, these tools and outcomes can be combined to assess coexistence at various spatial scales (field, farm or region) and various decision-making levels (farmers, elevators, member states, EU). Depending on the decision problem and the amount of information available, various SIGMEA tools can be used.
Based on regional case studies findings, contrasting global coexistence scenarios may be defined by considering different regulation approaches:
- A "bottom-up" approach, which would let the private actors (collectors, farmers) free to choose the best way to achieve coexistence guidelines and to meet regulatory or market-based threshold requirements;
- A "top-down" approach, based on the strong intervention of public authorities with the implementation of compulsory uniform measures (e.g., isolation distances);
- and a "third way" approach, which provides a focused response of authorities to lift some constraints on private actors.
SIGMEA has developed tools to support the definition and implementation of flexible measures. Predictive gene flow models are now available (currently only for maize and oilseed rape but easily extendable to other crops). These can help decision-makers assess the feasibility of coexistence at the field, farm and silo level for the various targeted thresholds under various environmental and agronomic conditions. In addition simple decision-support tools, like SMAC Advisor can be used by farmers or advisors who would like to quickly assess coexistence feasibility using limited amounts of information at a local field level.
It has been stressed that a coexistence regime based on “uniform isolation distances”, as implemented so far in several member states, is not optimal, not proportional and may lead to unnecessary additional costs or render coexistence impossible in practice.
Writing: A. Messéan (INRA)
Creation date: 28 May 2009
Update: 28 May 2009