German Environment Ministry seeks unconditional GMO ban

84% of Germans are against genetically modified plant cultivation, according to a survey by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation. [Raman Sharma/Flickr]

Germany’s Environment Ministry is hoping for a complete ban on green genetic engineering,  but a Green party assessment warns that upcoming free trade agreements like TTIP and CETA could still bring genetically modified plants to the European market. EURACTIV Germany reports.

After the European Parliament on Tuesday (13 January passed a new Directive on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in Europe, the German Environment Ministry is insisting on a complete ban on green genetic engineering in Germany.

It is very important that a political agreement be reached to generally apply the exclusion clause to Germany, emphasised State Secretary on Environment Jochen Flasbarth on Tuesday (13 January) in Berlin.

Under the new directive, EU member states will now be able to choose to opt-out, restricting or completely banning GMO cultivation within their borders. One of the leading proponents of such a legal ban in Germany is its Ministry of Agriculture, which is led by the Bavarian conservative Christian Social Union (CSU). The Ministry also supports a national ban on cultivation.

In a position paper from the Federal Ministry of the Environment, Minister Barbara Hendricks outlines that she does not want to leave any backdoors open for genetic engineering. The GMO law must be changed, so that controversial green genetic engineering cannot be used under any pretext in Germany, she states in the document, according to a report in the Süddeutsche newspaper.

“Green genetic engineering has turned out to be the wrong track,” Hendricks said. It is risky for nature and the environment and is not desired by consumers. “For this reason I would like us to use the EU rules in the future, that can guarantee freedom from genetic engineering in Germany,” she explained.

Meanwhile, an assessment from the Bundestag’s Green Party faction sees the GMO ban as being threatened by free trade agreements the EU is planning with Canada (CETA) and the United States (TTIP).

Titled Free trade – gateway for agricultural genetic engineering, the study is an analysis, conducted by Christoph Then, of the possible consequences of TTIP based on the CETA text. Then concludes that with TTIP, “EU standards for the protection of GMO-free agriculture, such as measures against contamination and maintaining clean seed, will be lowered in the medium-term.” The author also predicts changes in the approval procedure.

The study’s main conclusions are:

  • The application of the precautionary principle is not planned for CETA and presumably not planned for TTIP. In the EU, politicians decide on the approval of genetically modified plants before they are ever put on the market. In North America, they are considered safe until the opposite can be proven.
  • In the United States and Canada, there are no legal regulations for the protection of GMO-free agriculture. The EU’s new directive, providing the freedom to choose farming without genetically-modified plants, would be in danger if TTIP is enacted.
  • With CETA, the German government also robs itself of the ability to implement its own projects: An expansion of labeling requirements on products from genetically modified animals, as Germany’s grand coalition promised in its agreement, will be almost impossible under CETA.
  • In the EU, there is a strict division between risk analysis and approval: In Europe the independent food authority EFSA determines risks, while the political bodies decide on approval. In North America the authorities, alone, are responsible for both of these steps.

State Secretary Flachsbarth decidedly dismissed concerns over consumer protection. No lowering of standards, such as a softening of GMO regulation, will be accepted through TTIP.

MEP Susanne Melior from Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) also sought to dispel such concerns. “The existing rules for cultivation of GMOs will not be influenced by the TTIP negotiations,” Melior said, “An agreement must comply with EU law – not the reverse! Anything else would not be approved in the European Parliament.”

Green MEP Martin Häusling said he considers the compromise in the European Parliament a “Trojan Horse”. “The European Parliament had a chance at binding, clear and EU-wide rules for the approval of genetically modified plants. Meanwhile the majority of the population has expressed clear opposition to genetic engineering. These rules will make cultivation of genetically modified plants in the EU easier and lead to a European patchwork on the approval of genetically modified plants. That runs the risk of further spreading genetically modified material, such as on a transport route through EU countries that have indicated clear opposition to this agricultural technology.”

“The compromise is like a Trojan Horse. Something that seems harmless at first glance, can turn out to be dangerous in reality if it – as is feared – leads to more approvals at the EU level. As of yet it is unclear which reasons for a ban will actually withstand an action for annulment,” Häusling said.

Gesine Meißner from the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP): “ That is an acceptable compromise. In this way companies gain legal security. The negotiated compromise may not be internal-market-friendly, since a patchwork of regulation can be expected from the national bans. But the original plan, allowing tested GMOs to be cultivated throughout Europe, would have been right. Unfortunately, in light of scepticism from the scientific and research community in the public, it is illusory. Still, the Green Party’s alternative, namely an EU-wide ban on cultivation, was prevented.”

The European Commission proposed allowing national cultivation bans for GMOs in July 2010, in a bid to break a deadlock in EU GM crop approvals which has seen few varieties approved for cultivation in more than 12 years.

In the EU only one GM crop is approved for commercial cultivation: insect resistant maize, MON 810.

Of the total area of GM maize grown in the EU in 2012 (129,000 hectares) one country, Spain, contributed more than 90%.

The proposal, which was backed by the EU’s 28 environment ministers in June 2014, gives back “full responsibility” to member states over the cultivation of GMOs on their territory.

For the first time, it formally allows EU countries to opt-out from the Europe-wide approval system.

>> Read our LinksDossier: GMO cultivation in Europe: A decade of legal battles

Subscribe to our newsletters