Coexistence or contradiction? GM crops versus alternative agricultures in Europe

Levidow, Les and Boschert, Karin (2008). Coexistence or contradiction? GM crops versus alternative agricultures in Europe. Geoforum, 39(1) pp. 174–190.



Agricultural biotechnology (agbiotech) has intersected with a wider debate about 'sustainable agriculture', especially in Europe. Agbiotech was initially promoted as an alternative which would avoid or remedy past problems of intensive agriculture, but such claims were soon challenged. Agbiotech has extended the dominant agri-industrial paradigm, while critics have counterposed alternatives corresponding to an agrarian-based rural development paradigm. Amid controversy over environmental and health risks in the late 1990s, an extra issue emerged ? the prospect that genetically modified (GM) material would become inadvertently mixed with non-GM crops. In response the European Commission developed a policy framework for 'coexistence' between GM, conventional and organic crops. This policy has aimed to ensure that farmers can freely choose among different production systems, which would develop side by side, yet specific proposals for coexistence rules favour some choices over others. Such rules have been contested according to different policy agendas, each promoting their model of future agriculture. Moreover, a Europe-wide network of regional authorities has promoted 'GM-free zones' as a territorial brand for green, localised, high-quality agri-food production, whose diverse qualities depend upon symbolic, immaterial characteristics. This alternative has been counterposed to the agri-industrial production of global commodities – symbolised by the European Union, especially its product authorisation procedure for the internal market. 'Coexistence' policy was intended to mediate policy conflicts over GM crops, yet it has become another arena for contending agricultural systems, which may not so readily co-exist in practice. Wherever an agrarian-based rural development paradigm gains local support, its alternative agricultures are in contradiction rather than coexistence with GM crops.

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