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Organic farming and gene transfer from genetically modified crops

Moyes, Catherine L. and Dale, Philip J. (1999) Organic farming and gene transfer from genetically modified crops. John Innes Centre .

[thumbnail of OF0157_2153_FRP.pdf] PDF - English


This is the final report of MAFF/Defra project OF0157.
Genetically modified (GM) crops cannot be released into the environment and used as food, feed, medicines or industrial processing before they have passed through a rigorous and internationally recognised regulatory process designed to protect human and animal health, and the environment.
The UK body that oversees standards in organic farming, the United Kingdom Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS), has ruled that genetically modified (GM) crops have no role to play in organic farming systems. They, therefore, have concerns about the possibility and consequences of the mixing of GM crops with organic crops.
The two main sources of mixing are through pollen and seed. Pollen from GM crops may pollinate an organic crop. Seed from a GM crop, or plants established from them, may become mixed with organic crops or their products.
Minimising genetic mixing is an important feature of the production of all high quality seed samples of plant varieties supplied to farmers. Extensive experience has been obtained over many decades in the production of high purity seed samples. Crop isolation distances, and crop rotational and management practices are laid down to achieve this. These procedures for the production of seed of high genetic purity could be used for the production of organic crops.
No system for the field production of seed can guarantee absolute genetic purity of seed samples. Very rarely long distance pollination or seed transfer is possible, so any criteria for organic crop production will need to recognise this. There has always been the possibility of hybridisation and seed mixing between organic crops and non-organic crops. Organic farming systems acknowledge the possibility of spray or fertiliser drift from non-organic farming systems, and procedures are established to minimise this. In practice, detecting the presence of certain types of GM material in organic crops, especially quantification, is likely to be difficult.
Some seed used by organic farmers are currently obtained from abroad. After January 2001, or a modified deadline thereafter, UK organic farmers will be required to sow seed produced organically. There is little or no organic seed produced in the UK at present, so it has to be obtained from abroad. Seed obtained from outside the UK or the European Union, may have different seed production criteria. This may make it difficult to guarantee that it is absolutely free from any GM material.
Organic farmers and/or GM crop producers will need to ensure that their crops are isolated from one another by an appropriate distance or barrier to reduce pollen transfer if the crop flowers. To reduce seed mixing, shared equipment will need to be cleaned and an appropriate period of time allowed before organic crops are grown on land previously used for GM crops. Responsibility for isolation will need to be decided before appropriate measures can be implemented. The report highlights the need for acceptable levels of the presence of GM material in organic crops and measures identified to achieve this.

EPrint Type:Report
Keywords:genetically modified crops, gm, environment, contamination, pollen, seed, distance, OF0157
Subjects: Crop husbandry > Crop health, quality, protection
Values, standards and certification > Regulation
Crop husbandry > Breeding, genetics and propagation
Research affiliation: UK > John Innes Centre (JIC)
UK > Organic Research Centre (ORC)
UK > Other organizations
UK > Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
UK > National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB)
Deposited By: Defra, R&D Organic Programme
ID Code:8260
Deposited On:08 May 2006
Last Modified:12 Apr 2010 07:33
Document Language:English
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed

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