First evaluation of GMO decree
Porto – In September 2005, the Portuguese government established a decree law (No. 160/2005) on the co-existence between genetically modified organisms (GMO), conventional and organic crops. In short, it recommends a minimum distance of 200 meters between biotech and conventional crops, or a 300-meter distance between biotech and organic corn plots, and establishes a framework for GMO-free regions. Alternatively, farmers can plant 24 rows of conventional maize around their GM fields. In case of insect tolerance, farmers have to create “refuge” zones of conventional variety inside the biotech seed plots, representing at least 20 % of total crop area. Now, the Ministry of Agriculture has evaluated whether the new measures are effective in agricultural practice. The overall conclusion of the status report 2006 is: Co-existence can be managed.
No GMO admixture in 55%
of corn plots
About 55% of 18 analysed samples of maize kernels from small fields that were isolated from adjacent GMO corn fields by sowing 24 lines of conventional maize were negative. Six contained up to 0.2% GMOs and only two contained up to 0.45% GMO, which is clearly beneath the EU labelling threshold of 0.9% GMO. The samples are thought to be representative, according to the Directorate General for Crop Protection at the Portuguese Ministry of Agriculture, which published the results in June. They came from four of the five regions in the south of Portugal – Entre Douro e Minho (7.4 ha GM maize), Beiro Litoral (82.7 ha), Ribatejo e Oeste (451,1 ha), Alentejo (687,1 ha) and Beira Interior 26 ha), in which 1.254,3 hectares of GM maize were planted in 2006. This marks a significant increase – in 2004, there was no GM acreage in Portugal at all.
Farmers who planted GM maize on 44 sites in the five districts were well informed on how to manage co-existence, according to the ministry: 543 farmers visited training and information sessions conducted by 115 certified trainers, mostly from seeds companies but also from farmer’s organisations. In a survey of 27 farmers, only 2 of them said the information was insufficient. In contrast, 85% confirmed that the co-existence guidelines were easy to follow and that they had no problems with neighbours or with the marketing of the GM maize. While 52% of the farmers indicated that the price for the GM varieties was higher than for conventional maize, 70% said GM acreage was economically advantageous for them, because they may not need to use insecticides. Besides a reduction in the number of corn borers, the farmers said that less cost and exposure to insecticides were the main reason for them to use GM crops.
In the next year, Portugal is to start a research project (“Coexistentia”) on maize pollen flux in farm scale evaluation. On top of this, the government has announced that it will publish another decree law to create a specific compensation fund, which will cover any economic damage caused by adventitious admixture of biotech crops.