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Coexistence of organic and GM crops: Should the “zero tolerance” policy on presence of GM material in organic crops be changed? Sanja Ilic, Valeria C. Netto, Mehrnaz Roudsari, Majid Hassas Roudsari. Arrow pic. We’ll talk about…. Concept of Coexistence Canadian Organic Standard

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Coexistence of organic and GM crops: Should the “zero tolerance” policy on presence of GM material in organic crops be changed?Sanja Ilic, Valeria C. Netto, Mehrnaz Roudsari,Majid Hassas Roudsari

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We’ll talk about…

  • Concept of Coexistence

  • Canadian Organic Standard

  • Consumers’ Choice

  • Market Demand

  • Future Developments

  • Sources of Problem

  • How to Reduce The Risk

  • Standards in Other Countries

  • Discussion & Recommendations

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The Concept

Coexistence generally refers to the ability of farmers to make a practical choice between conventional, organic and GM-crop production, in compliance with the legal obligations for labelling and/or purity standards.

equal choice for farmers regardless of which type of product they decide to cultivate.

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Economic, Environmental & Health Aspect

Can be addressed through

  • Regulation: legal implication

  • Mutual consent and respect: attitudes changes

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  • Biotech Industry

  • Regulatory Agencies

  • Producers

  • Grain Handlers

  • Food Manufacturers

  • Consumers

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We’re talking about…

  • Concept of Coexistence

  • Canadian Organic Standard

  • Consumers’ Choice

  • Market Demand

  • Future Developments

  • Sources of Problem

  • How to Reduce The Risk

  • Standards in Other Countries

  • Discussion & Recommendations

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Organic Standard

Zero Tolerance

for Presence of GMOs

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What does it say?

“Organic agricultural foods, and their ingredients, additives and processing aids, are produced, processed, manufactured and handled in accordance with the principles of the organic system of production and processing. Genetically engineered and/or modified organisms (GEO/GMO), or their products, are not compatible with the principles of organic production and are prohibited from use in any aspect of organic production, processing or manufacturing. Furthermore, the use of ionizing radiation on organic food products (i.e. food irradiation) or their inputs is not compatible with the principles of organic processing and is prohibited.”


“Plant varieties, seed, seed inoculants, germ plasm, scions, rootstocks or other propagules developed through the use or incorporation of genetically engineered and/or modified organisms (GEO/GMO), or related technology, are prohibited from use under this standard.”

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Why is it important to create an environment that will encourage both organic and biotech agricultural modes?

  • Consumers’ Choice

  • Market Demand

  • Future Developments

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  • increased awareness: food for health improvement, family nutrition, weight control, environmental concern

  • What do consumers understand “organic” to mean?

    “Pesticide free”

    “GMO free”

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  • Want zero tolerance?

  • Would organic producers loose good marketing tool allowing limited presence of GMO?

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What makes the world go ‘round?

Ag Biotech Market in North America

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Increased 18% in 2003 (Ernst & Young 2004)

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Organic Market

What makes the world go ‘round?

  • 20% growth in 2003

  • Total sales $10.8 billion


Source: Organic Trade Association

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Organic Market

Organic production in Canada makes for about 1-1.5% of total agricultural product and 2% in US


Source: Organic Trade Association

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Future Biodevelopment

  • Biopharmaceuticals

    drugs whose active pharmaceutical ingredient is a complex molecule produced, from DNA, by genetically transformed living factories.

  • Biopharming

    experimental application of biotechnology in which plants are genetically engineered to produce pharmaceutical proteins and chemicals.

  • Contraceptives, growth hormones, industrial enzymes, and vaccines could be produced in this way.

  • Corn is by far the most popular biopharm plant, followed by soya beans, tobacco and rice.

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Input from Dr. Sparling

It is essential to have regulations in place

because of potential important markets such

as biopharmaceuticals.


“…we’ll get some pharmaceutical and industrial products, then we will really need to be able to trace because …to separate (them) from the food chain…”

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StarLinkTM Case

  • StarLinkTM: GM maize hybrid containing Cry9c protein from Bacillus thurginesis

  • Potential human allergen

  • Approved for use only in animal feed

  • 2000 found in the food chain

  • US government decided no longer to permit split registrations

  • Genetic contamination can effect GMO, Non GMO, and organic crop

  • StarLinkTM: neverreceived Health Canada nor CFIA’s approval for use as livestock feed or for confined or unconfined environmental release as seed

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Mission Impossible?

Prospects of Contamination


  • Purchased of home-saved seeds contaminated with GM material

  • Cross-pollination from neighboring GM crop.

  • Volunteer seeds from previously grown GM crop.

  • GM crop pollinated wild plants, which in turn get to organic crop.

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Mission Impossible?

Managing The Risk


  • physical distances, natural and man made barriers

  • differences in flowering time

  • Case-specific

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Mission Impossible?


Managing The Risk

  • equipment for segregation

  • handling systems modifications identity preservation needs.

  • mechanical mixing of crops during the production process

  • residues in equipment during planting & harvesting, at the grain

  • storage and transportation

Identity Preservation System

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Identity Preservation

  • System of production, handling and marketing practices to maintain

    the integrity and purity of agricultural commodity; to channel varieties with unique quality traits (organic) in order to capture the added value.

  • standards, records, and auditing throughout the production process

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Identity Preservation

Mission Impossible?


purity of the seed stock must equal or exceed the purity standards of the final product

zero tolerance rule for final product)

Seed 100% pure from GM contaminants

virtually impossible to achieve from start

The IP process scheme

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  • A direct correlation between increased product purity requirements and higher IP costs.

  • burden of maintaining purity falls entirely on the producer and marketer of organic crops

  • IP leads to increased cost of end organic product & higher farm profitability

Higher cost acceptance by consumers?

Enough for everyone to share?

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Policies in Other Countries

  • USA: just changed zero tolerance

  • Europe has set thresholds for presence of GM material in non-GM food at 0.5%

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Non-GM labeling thresholds in other countries

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  • Can adventitious presence of GM crops in organic or conventional crops be reduced below certain policy-relevant thresholds with changed farming practices?

Strengths & Weaknesses

  • Should zero tolerance policy be changed?

Strengths & Weaknesses

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Minimizes the risk of contamination with GM

Helps differentiate and market organic crops

Facilitates traceability for trace-back food safety quality control

Improves side-management

Raises the profitability

Increases consumers’ trust


Increases the cost of production

Must be developed case-by-case

Cannot prevent contamination completely

Requires professional expertise


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Should zero tolerance policy be changed?

  • YES

    SO WHY ?

    . NO

    SO WHY ?

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Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Interview withShane Morris

National Biotechnology Operations Coordinator


June 16, 2004

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