Can GM MAIZE coexist with CONVENTIONAL MAIZE?

Spread the knowledge

After strengthening its regulation on the traceability and labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the Commission recently lifted the de facto moratorium applied by the EU on this technology and started to allow the marketing of new varieties in Europe.

Despite this clear political support for transgenic food products for human and animal consumption, many consumers and retailers remain opposed to technology, while millions of tonnes of genetically modified crops are being grown and consumed in other regions around the world, the European campaign remains virtually free of GMOs .

This is why the European biotech industry is so quick to promote the example of maize growers in Spain, where various varieties of transgenic maize have been grown alongside conventional crops for seven years. This year, nearly 60,000 hectares of Bt maize are grown for commercial purposes in the country, which represents about 12% of the total volume of Spanish maize harvests.

In order to demonstrate the effectiveness of GMO technology and measures to ensure their effective coexistence with conventional maize crops, the Agricultural Biotechnology in Europe (ABE), the representative organization of the biotechnology industry, organized a visit reserved for journalists from EU countries in an agricultural cooperative in Zaragoza, Spain.

According to Miguel Leon, Director of the Government and Public Affairs Department of Monsanto Spain and representative of EBA , when we talk about coexistence, it is important to understand that this is not a question of health security or environmental. ” Coexistence is a practice of protecting the right of all farmers to practice the agriculture of their choice, and all health and environmental issues are taken into account before allowing the cultivation of a product “. he declares.

Mr Leon underlined the fact that during the seven years of Bt maize cultivation in Spain, no incidents that could have led to the failure of coexistence measures or economic losses for Spanish farmers were noted. ” Coexistence is not new, farmers have been using it for a long time, ” he said. ” In Spain, coexistence has not been a problem for seven years without formal rules and, in the absence of such rules, the industry has provided guidance and advice on how farmers can deal with issues related to coexistence. “

To support his remarks, journalists were invited to visit the agricultural cooperative of Bujaraloz, on the outskirts of Zaragoza, in Spanish Aragon. Eduardo Escanillas, president of the cooperative, said he grows conventional maize and transgenic maize in Bujaraloz, with nearly 13% of his total arableland being reserved for transgenic maize Bt. ” I sincerely believe that the future belongs to farmers. GMOs: they produce more profitable crops, in other words, farmers make more money, “he said.

Bt, or  Bacillus thuringiensis , is a naturally occurring soil bacterium that has been used as a pesticide spray for over 40 years, especially against corn borer , which can have a significant impact on crop yield in heavily infested areas. In Bt corn, Bt protein is added to maize because of the high efficiency of its immune mechanism against pests . However, as Mike Hall of Pioneer pointed out, the qualities of Bt corn (its taste, appearance and nutritional value) are all the result of conventional hybrid farming practices : ” Genetic modificationonly serves to protect the quality of the hybrid seed , “he told CORDIS News.

In a region heavily affected by corn borers such as Aragon, the potential impact of such protection is considerable when the average yield of transgenic maize crops is 15 tonnes per hectare compared to 13 tonnes per hectare. for conventional corn. On the other hand, the higher cost of transgenic seeds compared to ordinary hybrid varieties is offset by the saving of pesticides that have to be sprayed two or three times on ordinary seed fields.

Javier Escanillas grows maize in the cooperative and is the first year he has planted transgenic seeds next to his conventional corn fields. When CORDIS News asked him why he had decided to plant GM maize, he said it was because he was able to see the benefits of the other farmers in the cooperative. ” I realized that GMOs are good for nature because they require fewer pesticides, and good for farmers because they provide better yields – in short, everyone wins. “

Commenting on how he had experienced this experience, Mr. Escanillas said that although he has not yet harvested it next year, he will produce Bt corn on all 45 hectares. of his land if the results of the harvest are as good as he imagines. Coexistence is an important issue for him because if his genetically modified maize, like all genetically modified maize crops in Spain, is intended for animal feed and clearly labeled as a genetically modified product, a good deal of conventional corn could be converted into corn starch for human consumption.

Thanks to the experience of the other farmers in the cooperative and attending the conference and seminars organized by the biotechnology industry, Mr. Escamillas has learned to apply various techniques to avoid cross-pollination and other forms of contamination between its two types of culture. For example, GMO fields are surrounded by a conventional crop refuge zone that helps prevent cross-pollination, while different varieties are planted at different times to ensure that pollination of these varieties does not occur. not take place simultaneously. In the most striking demonstration of the effectiveness of Bt corn, the farmer showed the contrastbetween tall, tight rows of transgenic maize and ordinary withered plants infested with corn borer. “The irony is that plants that look healthy are for pigs, while the rest are for men,” he said.

According to Miguel Leon and Mike Hall, the experience of the Bujaraloz cooperative proves that farmers are more than capable of guaranteeing the effective coexistence of transgenic and conventional crops, and this example could be followed in the rest of Europe. “That’s the way farmers have always worked, it’s nothing new to them,” Hall said. ” If coexistence is an important issue, it is not overly complicated .”

Dr. Kimberly Seltzer

Postdoctoral Scholar, UC Berkeley Research Assistant, MIT

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *