Trade Disruptions Involving Low Levels of GM Crops Increase

The increased production of genetically modified crops around the globe has led to a higher number of incidents of low levels of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) being detected in traded food and feed, according to a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) survey. As a result, there have been trade disruptions between countries with shipments being blocked by importing countries and destroyed (burned) or returned to the country of origin.

The trace amounts of GM crops can become mixed with non-GM food and feed crops by accident during field production (for example, GM crops grown near a field of a non-GM crop), processing, packing, storage, and transportation.

FAO’s recent questionnaire was sent to all member countries to gather information on the extent and nature of problems with low levels of GM in traded commodities. Respondents reported 198 incidents of low levels of GM crops mixed into non-GM crops between 2002 and 2012—there was a jump in cases between 2009 and 2012, when 138 out of the 198 incidents were reported. The survey also found that the U.S., Canada, and China where the main countries that had shipments found with low levels of GM crops. The highest number of incidents involved linseed, rice, maize, and papaya.

In response to several countries requesting an international dialogue on the trade issue, FOA is organizing a technical consultation in Rome on March 20 and 21. The meeting will serve as a foundation for any future discussions about what actions, if any, should be taken at national and/or international levels to reduce risks of trade disruptions and associated negative welfare impacts. “If this meeting demonstrates that there are different visions on how the situation is likely to evolve over the next five to 10 years, then the meeting will seek agreement on what data needs to be collected to reach a common understanding,” says Renata Clarke, FAO senior food safety officer in charge of the survey. “FAO does not intend to make any recommendations for any decisions or policies that national authorities make under their own legislative framework.”

In most countries, there are no generally applicable low-level GMO policies, legislation, or regulations yet in place. Different options have been used when setting such policy, including a zero tolerance policy, a low threshold policy, and a case-by-case policy. According to the survey, 55 countries have zero-tolerance policy for unauthorized GM crops.

“However many countries indicated that they are still in process of putting policies and regulations of more fundamental frameworks, i.e., environment and food safety,” says Clarke. “This meeting will build awareness of the issues which will facilitate better informed decisions, at country level, on what policies or regulations are needed.”

In regards to the safety of GM crops, FAO has setup a GM Foods Platform, a Web page for countries to share information on safety assessment.


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