Coexistence refers to the ability of farmers to choose between the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) and non-GM crops, in compliance with the relevant legislation on labelling rules for GM organisms (GMOs), food and feed and/or purity standards.
Agriculture takes place in an open environment and therefore certain sources of GMO admixture cannot be completely avoided. GMO admixture can be considered adventitious if it results from natural processes (such as pollen transfer by wind or insects, or seed shedding during harvest). Where techniques to prevent admixture during certain farm operations do not exist or where the application of such techniques would be beyond economic feasibility admixture is to be considered technically unavoidable.
Since only GM crops that have passed a rigorous authorisation procedure can be cultivated in the EU, coexistence measures do not concern environmental or health risks. The issues to be addressed in the context of coexistence are in general the potential economic impacts of the admixture of GM and non-GM crops, the identification of workable technical and organisational measures during cultivation, harvest, on-farm storage and transport to minimise admixture, and the cost of these measures.
Such coexistence measures should make it possible for farmers growing non-GM crops to keep the adventitious presence of GMOs in their crops within the legal limits established in Community law, while ensuring that farmers, who want to grow authorised GM crops, have an opportunity to do so.
Coexistence is in the competence of Member States. Several Member States have already developed specific legislation on coexistence. In 2003, the Commission adopted recommendations on guidelines and best practices for coexistence to assist Member States develop national legislation or other strategies and approaches to coexistence (Commission Recommendation 2003/556/EC).
However, as the Commission has concluded in its coexistence report of March 2006, practical experience is still limited and confined to certain regions. A limited number of Member States have so far developed technical segregation measures in the form of good agricultural practices.
Further information on coexistence can be found on the website of the European Commission's Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development.