BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Farmers would face higher, and in some cases unsustainable, production costs if genetically engineered crops were commercially grown on a large scale basis in Europe, according to a secret European Union study leaked to Greenpeace.
The study, "Co-existence in European Agriculture," predicts that the situation would become critical for organic farming of staple foods such as oilseed rape as well as for intensive production of potatoes and conventional maize, or corn.
The coexistence of genetically engineered farming and organic farming would become impossible in many cases since all seeds would be contaminated with genetically engineered traits to some extent, the study concludes.
Commercialization of genetically engineered oilseed rape, maize and potatoes would increase costs of farming to between nine and 41 percent, the study says. The increased cost of agricultural production generally leads to increased cost of foods in the marketplace.
The European Commission ordered the study on the co-existence of genetically engineered (GE) and non-GE crops in May 2000 from the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, of the European Union Joint Research Centre.
According to Greenpeace, which for years has demonstrated against genetically engineered crops, the study was delivered to the European Commission in January 2002.
Within the study was a letter to the Comission from the Director General of the EU Joint Research Centre, Barry McSweeney, stating that "given the sensitivity of the issue, I would suggest that the report be kept for internal use within the Commission only."
Greenpeace released the leaked document on May 16.
In response to the report, Lorenzo Consoli, Greenpeace EU policy advisor said, "The European Commission has tried to keep this study secret. If the introduction of GE crops on a commercial scale in Europe increases costs of production for all farmers, makes them more dependent on the big seed companies, and would require complicated and costly measures to avoid contamination, why should we accept GE cultivation in the first place?"
The study, based on a combination of computer modeling and expert opinion, analyzed the consequences of an increase in the share of GE crops.
It focused on the three crops of which GE varieties are currently available: winter oilseed rape for seed production now being grown in France and Germany, grain maize for feed production in Italy and France, and potatoes for direct consumption and food processing in the UK and Germany.
The study covered several farm types, both organic and conventional farming. It considered three different threshold levels for genetic contamination: 0.1 percent, the analytical detection level for all the crops, 0.3 percent for oilseed rape, and one percent for maize and potatoes.
Greenpeace representatives say the study means that both organic and conventional farmers could be forced to stop saving seed and instead buy certified seed, because of the increased risk of GE impurity for seeds that have been exposed to field contamination.
Smaller farms would face relatively higher costs compared to larger entities, and cultivation of GE and non-GE crops in the same farm might be an unrealistic scenario, even for larger farms, the study acknowledges.
Established in Seville, Spain in 1994, the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) is one of seven institutes making up the Joint Research Centre. The task of the IPTS is to monitor developments in science and technology, to analyze their impact on Europe and the world, and to share these findings with European decision makers.
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