A study conducted by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona has revealed that the coexistence of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and conventional organic agriculture is impossible.
Carried out by researcher Rosa Binimelis, who also works on the European project ALARM (Assessing Large Scale Risks for Biodiversity with Tested Methods), the study analyzes the current situation in Catalonia and Aragon - Europe’s main producers of transgenic foods. The research involved 51 in-depth interviews and participant observation, including twenty-two interviews with farmers and the remaining with government representatives, scientists, academics, NGO members and other organizations and platforms.
The initial controversy surrounding the introduction of GM cultivation in Spain in 1998 has now become a debate focusing on the concept of coexistence between transgenic and conventional or organic agriculture. In 2002 the European Commission created the concept in order to address growing concerns relating to the mixing of different cultivations (as organic farmers are against using GMOs) and to facilitate the lifting of the present "de facto" moratorium in Europe - which is not officially recognized.
In 2007, the area planted with transgenic maize in Catalonia and Aragon was respectively 23,000 and 35,900 hectares, representing 55 and 42 per cent of the total area dedicated to the cultivation of maize crops for each region.
Maize production is integrated in cereal cooperatives which cover the whole production chain, from the sale of seeds and inputs, to commercialization and technical advice. However, this system involves various infrastructures which render it difficult and costly to separate GM from organic and conventional production.
For this reason, the study also examines the problems organic farmers could encounter in claiming compensations where mixing occurs, such as technical difficulties in measuring the level of ‘contamination’ or the origin of the seeds. The land area cultivated with organic maize decreased in Aragon by 75 percent from 2004 to 2007.
This year the European Commission intends to evaluate how the policy of coexistence has been implemented over the past ten years.