GM Free Cymru

Coexistence is impossible, say GM opponents

Press Notice from GM Free Cymru Friday 19 September 2003: 

The "coexistence scenario" by which GM crops and non-GM crops (in conventional and organic farming systems) can be grown in the same region is pure fantasy, according to the Welsh watchdog body GM Free Cymru.

European Commission GM policy over the last few months has been directed towards putting in place measures which will ensure that farmers can use whichever types of crops suit them so long as coexistence rules are followed.  These rules have not been properly formulated, and the drafting of them will now be undertaken not by Brussels but by the member states. This gives member states the right effectively to remain GM-free, and it is likely that the rules will vary from one nation to another and possibly from one region to another.

Commenting on the new "coexistence guidelines", GM Free Cymru spokesman Brian John said: "What we now have in the European GM debate is a shambles. European consumers do not want GM crops and food, and nobody needs them either.  They are not even needed for the alleviation of world hunger.  They are expensive, unstable and damaging to the environment, and there is still no evidence whatsoever to support the premise that GM food is safe to eat. So the Commission is playing silly games, simply in order to keep the biotechnology multinationals, the US government and the WTO happy.  The Commission maintains the pretence that GM crops can and must coexist with non-GM varieties, in the full knowledge that coexistence is impossible from a practical point of view.  On this issue, as on many others, the Commission has betrayed European consumers and has sanctioned a gigantic experiment with the European environment and with the health of those who will inadvertently eat GM food."

The European approach to GM has been centred on labelling, contamination thresholds, and on the use of recommended separation distances between GM crops and non-GM related varieties.  However, numerous studies have shown that cross-contamination and interbreeding is inevitable, and that it is almost impossible to enforce the strict GM crop management regimes which should be adhered to by farmers.  Many researchers now believe that GM contamination thresholds in planted seed, harvested crops and in animal and human food may be met for a few years at best, and that thereafter contamination will spiral out of control.  "We must not allow this to happen, even if the EU Commission and the UK Government appear indifferent," sayd Dr John.  "We urge politicians and campaigners alike to recognize the coexistence scam for what it is, and to ensure that regulations are brought in all over Europe which will effectively prevent unwanted GM crops from being planted."

GM Free Cymru has written to Secretary of State Margaret Beckett many times on this issue, and she has not replied.  Members of the Group now believe that even if GM fields are accurately located via 6-figure grid references, if bio-hazard notices are placed on all GM sites, if the wind stops blowing and if bees stop flying, and if "ideal" GM crop management systems are perfectly adhered to, GM contamination above the 1% threshold level is absolutely inevitable within a few years.



1. The work which NIAB has done in the UK shows that GM oilseed rape is particularly dangerous and cannot be contained.  Dr Jeremy Sweet's comments confirm that it will be impossible over a period of years to retain the integrity of either conventional or organic oilseed rape plantings, such is the speed of GM out-crossing.  In Brussels on 11th September, referring to GM oilseed rape, he said: "We need a lot more data on how pollen is distributed and how it moves and contaminates fields. GMOs can persist in one field from one year to another, even from one decade to another. Just one seed per square meter could lead to 100% contamination."

2.  At a GM meeting in Aberystwyth on 16 April 2003 Dr Sweet said: "We do have to accept the fact that once GM oil seed rape is commercialised it will be everywhere and that is inevitable, because conventional rape is everywhere.  There is no reason why its going to behave differently from conventional rape. So once we start growing GM rape it will become as widely dispersed as conventional rape."

3.  The following key sources of GM pollution indicate that long-term "coexistence" will be impossible:

(a).  GM seed in birdseed -- there is potential contamination all over the UK.  This issue has been highlighted by Josie MacDonald and Jean Saunders, and Dr Linda Smith at DEFRA has refused to do anything to check the scale of contamination,

(b).  Cross-pollination over distances which vary from one GM variety to another with flowering times,local landscape characteristics, wind regimes etc.  Also seed transport by surface runoff and stream flow.  This is well documented by studies in all areas where GM has been grown.  In the US and Canada, GM contamination has now gone beyond the stage where the situation can be rectified.

(c).  Lax biosecurity with seed drilling and harvesting equipment, which moves about widely because of small farms and large-scale use of contractors and machinery rings. There are now 15 machinery rings in the UK.  (Recent figures from the US show that at least 20% of GM farmers do not pay any attention to GM biosecurity guidelines.  It was difficult enough to get farmers to follow the guidelines during the FSE programme;  it will be impossible under normal "commercial" conditions.)

(d).  Lax biosecurity with seed transport onto a GM farm and transport of seed away from farm following harvest.  Again this is well documented from North America as a cause of pollution.  (The Percy Schmeiser case is relevant.)

(e).  Potential for contamination carried by farm animals and wild animals including roe deer, birds, bees, foxes and badgers. (This has come up over and again during the FSE programme, and neither DEFRA nor anybody else has sought to control the situation.  There have not been any prosecutions of farmers who have allowed animal access onto GM crop sites.)

(f).  Ramblers and riders wandering across GM farmland and onto non-GM farmland.  Density and usage of footpaths is important here.  Could also be health / allergy effects for sensitive individuals.  Seeds on muddy boots, horses' hooves, pollen on clothing? (The recent article in Country Walking magazine is relevant. "Walkers in GM scare" - COUNTRY WALKING Sept 2003).

(g).  Segregation of GM and non-GM seed stocks at the silos of the big seed merchants is impossible, and in the United States it is now impossible to guarantee the purity of maize seed supplied to conventional or organic farmers. (See "Industry struggles with biotech corn",  Associated Press, by Jim Paul -- iotech_corn/ 

4.  The apparent willingness on the part of the Government to allow GM contamination of organic crops is interesting given this statement:  Jeff Rooker, MAFF minister of state for food safety in the House of Commons, 30th July 1998:  "I want to make it absolutely clear that my Ministry and DETR will be working with the farming community and > representatives of organic farming to ensure that the expansion of organic farming is not compromised by the introduction of GM crops.......I want to make it clear that that is the most important sentence that I shall say this evening. I genuinely mean that - those are not words to be put in Hansard and forgotten about; I shall follow would be stupid for the Government to push more money into converting to organic farming while allowing the farmers who take that brave step to be damaged by other actions within the process that I have described."


Contact:  Dr Brian John, spokesman for GM Free Cymru, tel 01239-820470, fax 0 1239-821245