- Co-existence of different crops is not a new issue.
- All forms of agriculture should, and can, be available to future generations.
- CropLife International supports a practical approach that offers a true choice to farmers and consumers and one that does not impose disproportionate standards that would in practice equate to a prohibition.
- Existing national laws on civil liability provide long-established, proven tools to manage any potential liability issues associated with co-existence.
- Co-existence is about economics, not safety.
- Co-existence requires mutual respect and tolerance between practitioners of different production systems: no single system has any right to dominate others.
- Farmers and citizens must be free to choose to share in the proven benefits of GM.
Co-existence of various production methods is not a new concept to the agricultural community. Farmers have practiced co-existence for generations to meet demands for different types of products. Breeders and farmers are accustomed to breeding and producing different crops such as waxy and non-waxy maize, white and yellow maize, hot and sweet peppers, and high- and zero-erucic acid oilseed rape, alongside each other. They are also accustomed to producing certified seed to meet defined purity standards. This experience shows that co-existence of a wide range of production methods is not a problem, provided technical and procedural guidelines are carefully followed and cooperation between neighboring farmers is encouraged. This applies equally to the introduction of GM crops: modern biotechnology does not introduce any new problems.
What is co-existence?
Co-existence is the practice of growing crops with different quality characteristics or intended for different markets in the same vicinity without becoming commingled and thereby possibly compromising the economic value of both. Co-existence is based on the premise that farmers should be free to cultivate the crops of their choice using the production system they prefer, whether they are GM, conventional, or organic.
Co-existence is not a safety issue
Co-existence is not about environmental or health risks because it refers only to the growing of crops (including GM crops) that have been authorized as safe for the environment and for human health by the country in which it is being grown, and which are therefore available commercially to farmers in the area. Concerns about co-existence relate to potential economic loss through the admixture of GM and non-GM crops that may result in a lowering of the crop’s value and with costs and time associated with identifying workable management measures to minimize such admixture
Co-existence is not a new issue
Co-existence of two or more crops of the same species is not a new concept. Within a farming community, growing similar crops for different markets in the same farming region is not a new challenge. For many years, what might be considered as incompatible crops – for example, specialty maize grown for human consumption and waxy maize grown for the starch industry – have been grown in the same areas or even on the same farm. Different types of wheat, barley and rice are similarly grown in proximity and channeled to different uses (e.g. bread wheat vs. feed wheat; malting barley to produce beer vs. animal feed barley). Farmers follow simple but effective procedures to achieve agreed standards of quality and purity in their harvested product. It is important to note that agricultural crops are never 100% pure: co-existence means meeting agreed, low levels of admixture.
How can co-existence work?
Since distinct types of agricultural production are not naturally separated, suitable measures during cultivation, harvest, transport, storage, and processing are needed to manage the possible accidental mixing (admixture) of GM and non-GM crops resulting from, for example, seed impurities, cross-pollination, harvesting and storage practices.
The use of GM crop varieties alongside non-GM crops, therefore, does not fundamentally change the current situation regarding co-existence. As GM crops further become a part of commercial agriculture, they will be found at low levels when harvesting other varieties. Equally, small amounts of other varieties will be found in GM crops. This is a fact of life in agriculture, and GM crops are no different from others in this regard. Co-existence between any crops or forms of agriculture is possible – as it has always been – by recognizing that absolute purity is not achievable, but that high purity is. Some important basic concepts relevant to understanding co-existence are:
- Crops will only pollinate other varieties of the same crop. Thus, for example, GM oilseed rape would have no influence on a farmer’s ability to grow organic maize in adjacent fields.
- Cross-pollination will only occur to a significant degree if the crops are sufficiently close, the flowering periods are the same, and the receiving crop has not already self-pollinated.
- Scientific studies show that for all crops, most of the cross-pollination occurs at the edge of the fields with a rapid decrease as the distance from the pollen source increases.
- The potential for cross-pollination is only present in certain well-defined cases. Effective communication between nearby farmers and other codes of conduct can ensure problem-free co-existence through agreement to separate crops of the same type.
CropLife International Position on Co-existence
All agricultural systems that are deemed safe should have an equal opportunity to contribute to the agri-food production system under free market conditions. Preference for one system over another must not be the result of artificial, discriminatory, and impractical standards. Different agricultural systems can co-exist perfectly easily to play a vital role in sustainable agri-food production systems globally.
Today, crop varieties produced through biotechnology are grown by millions of farmers on hundreds of millions of hectares around the world (185.6 million hectares in 2020). The evidence is clear that farmers choose to grow these crop varieties as they offer benefits to themselves. They may also provide benefits to rural communities, the environment, and consumers.
Co-existence guidelines relating to crops produced through biotechnology should focus on the feasibility and costs of management practices that aim to avoid the unintended presence of GM material in other produce. Growers who will benefit from a specific quality standard should not expect their neighbors to bear the special management costs of meeting that standard; to do so would reverse fundamental concepts of freedom of economic activity and would establish a dangerous precedent.
The EU and co-existence
CropLife International supports CropLife Europe’s efforts to introduce workable co-existence regulations in all EU member countries. A workable threshold for seed should be agreed to and implemented EU-wide as a matter of urgency.