14 January 2016 | Category: Bio-economy

GMCC-15 Conference: Coexistence in International Supply Chains will Remain an Important Topic

By Justus Wesseler

Every two years, GMCC provides an important stage for active debate on policy, legal, economic and technical solutions that seek to facilitate coexistence in order to ensure that all sectors continue to thrive, to meet the growing global food demand and to satisfy the demands of stakeholders such as industry, governments or different consumer segments. GMCC-15 was dedicated to “Coexistence in International Trade”.
In November 2015 the GMCC-15 conference on coexistence in international supply chains took place in Amsterdam. Leading experts from various academic disciplines and industry, regulators, policy makers and other key stakeholders from around the world gathered to discuss the challenges and opportunities in managing different types of foods in global markets. We enjoyed the hospitality of Krasnapolsky Hotel, had an excellent conference dinner at the place where the Dutch stock exchange was opened.
Coexistence, segregation, and identity preservation of genetically (GMOs) and non-genetically modified organisms in international supply chains have been a topic of public and professional discussion around the world for many years. Recently, however, these debates have taken on intensity as the EU in particular faces new challenges. One of such challenges is the ongoing US–EU negotiations on Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). A particularly sensitive part of the TTIP negotiations (especially for the Europeans) is the possible synchronization of the US and EU laws on GM organisms. Although the EU Commission argues the EU basic law on GMOs is not up for negotiation, documents from various US government agencies and business trade organizations suggest strong pressure for improving the EU approval process.
Another milestone in the EU GMO policy development has been the January 2015 agreement among the EU Commission, the Parliament, and Member States on a scheme for authorisation of GMOs. This scheme will allow Member States to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of specific GMOs in their territory based on environmental, agricultural, and socio-economic policy objectives, even if the EU Commission approves cultivation of GM crops. This agreement is expected to (partially) break the gridlock of the EU regulation for cultivation of GM crops.
A third important issue is the unresolved question of regulating new breeding techniques in the European Union and other parts of the world. At this moment, it is not clear if these techniques will fall under the EU GMO regulation, other regulations or if new regulations will be created. The registration costs for companies are likely to be low if a technique or its products is classified as non-GMO but very high otherwise. This distinction will particularly be important for the supply chain as it defines whether or not farm level coexistence regulations and labelling rules apply and if specific measures for identity preservation will be necessary and useful.
Those issues have been discussed in the plenary and parallel sessions. The video prepared by Barend Hazeleger of Agrapen provides a nice summary.
In his conference opening speech Arthur Mol reminded us that the issue of coexistence is a controversially discussed social reality. With Jayson Lusk and David Zilberman we had excellent key-note speakers. David Zilberman did remind us that managing coexistence has important welfare implications. Jayson Lusk stressed the difficulty of identifying and implementing appropriate labelling schemes for food products.
I see the GMCC conference also as an activity that contributes to reduce the problems our world is facing. Being open to the developments in other parts of the worlds including new developments in the natural and social sciences can help to reduce misunderstandings, increase the understanding and appreciation of what others have done and achieved. If we have a better understanding about what others have done and achieved can reduce the fear about the unknown, the fear about new technologies, other cultures, other regions, other people. It is this natural fear that we all have, that we need to address. But this fear can also be abused. We observe that stakeholders use this to their own advantage. We observe miss reporting about the impacts of new technologies such as GMOs, the impacts about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
I also see the GMCC conferences as providing a better understanding about the implications of GMOs for international trade, possibilities for coexistence along the supply chain from research and development over application at farm level, transport, processing, retailing until final consumption with all the related welfare implications. By being open to coexistence, by being open to accept and appreciate the other, even so we may not always like it and even so this may sound pathetic, we can contribute to a better world.

By Justus Wesseler

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