24 May 2002

GM crops with organic force increase in costs

By Philip ClarkeEurope editor

COMMERCIAL growing of genetically modified crops will lead to higher costs for farmers and could threaten the viability of some forms of organic production, according to a new Brussels study into the possible impact of cultivating GM and non-GM crops in the EU.

The report shows that growing both will force costly changes in farming practices if farmers are to maintain their GM-free status.

These include such things as changing set-aside management to minimise rape volunteers, introducing different sowing dates to avoid GM and non-GM crops flowering at the same time and increasing field separations.

Farm-saved seed will also cease to be viable on some arable farms, while installing effective monitoring systems and taking out insurance against GM contamination will raise costs.

The report considers various possible scenarios, including 10% and 50% uptake of GM varieties within a region and 0.1%, 0.3% and 1% thresholds above which crops can no longer be considered GM-free.

"Compliance with the 1% and 0.3% thresholds may result in additional costs of 1% to 10% for the farm crop combinations studied (oilseed rape, maize and potatoes)," it says. "Exceptions are found in the production of seed for oilseed rape, where costs can be up 41%."

Flawed report

Environmental group, Greenpeace, says the study throws into doubt the viability of licensing any GM crops. "If the introduction of GM crops increases costs for all farmers, makes them more dependent on the big seed companies and requires costly measures to avoid contamination, why should we accept GM cultivation in the first place?" it asks.

But a spokesman for the biotech industry said the report was flawed. "The authors themselves note that the findings have to be treated with care because the models used have not been validated."

He accepted that therecould be extra costs involved, but these would only be prohibitive if the thresholds were set too low. "Organic standards allow up to 5% inclusion ofnon-organic foods. If this is extended to GM foods, then there is very little issue with additional costs."

Monsanto spokesman Colin Merritt, added that the report took no account of the financial benefits of growing GM crops. &#42