German government quarrels over GMO cultivation ban

9841926155_dd3ac64edd_z.jpg [netzroot/Flickr]

Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt hopes to create a legislative framework that would cover cultivation bans on genetically modified plants, but leave them up to the regions. Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, meanwhile, is insisting on a national GMO ban. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Barbara Hendricks has rejected a draft bill from Christian Schmidt for regional cultivation bans on genetically modified plants.

The bill is just an initial working draft, Hendricks said on Monday (16 March), in a statement to ZDF.

“It will still be voted on by the federal government,” she said.

The Social Democrat is calling for a national ban on the cultivation of genetically modified crops. This is important, she said, to achieve legal certainty. “If we have a fragmented cultivation ban, we would have an incredibly high amount of legal disputes,” Hendricks pointed out.

>>Read: German Environment Ministry seeks unconditional GMO ban

Like Schmidt, Ulrike Scharf also hails from the conservative Christian Social Union, but she does not support the Agriculture Minister’s plans, warning against a “patchwork” result. Instead, the Bavarian Environment Minister supports a uniform ban on cultivation, she told “WISO”.

Saxony’s Environment Minister Thomas Schmidt also called for a national regulation. A cultivation ban must be legally justified, he said. “And that cannot be worked out by each region individually,” the Saxonian politician argued. Only with a national regulation, he contended, would the administrative burden and the risk be manageable.

For the time being, German Agriculture Minister Schmidt’s draft for a ban on agricultural use of GM plants is up for consultation with the other ministries. Consultation with regions and associations is intended to proceed as quickly as possible. The goal is to move forward with the legislative procedure, so that the possibility for a so-called opt-out can take effect this fall.

While the EU has decided on general approval of genetically modified plants, it allows for individual member states to issue their own national bans. In this way, member states have the opportunity, through the Opt-out-Directive, to issue national cultivation bans or restrictions on genetically modified plants.

“The opt-out arrangement was always my goal,” Schmidt said. “Now it is time to quickly approve a national bill, making it possible, with legal certainty, to issue cultivation bans on genetically modified plants in our fields.”

Schmidt’s draft bill plans to give the regional governments, or their appointed authorities, the power to issue cultivation bans or restrictions, not the federal government. The regions can act in a “considerably more appropriate and people-oriented” way with regard to specific local cultivation and environmental conditions.

A cultivation ban for the entire German territory would more quickly result in a violation of the principle of proportionality than region-specific bans issued by the regions, according to Schmidt’s plans. The more precisely an opt-out is oriented towards specific local conditions, the more likely it is to maintain proportionality and will therefore stand up in court, he argues.

Especially US companies like Monsanto, Dow Chemical or Dupont are making billions in profits worldwide and have an interest in cultivation in Europe. In Germany, BASF and Bayer Cropscience are among the leading GMO suppliers.

Regional ministers demand national regulation

“It will always be possible to find someone who will sow GM corn in their fields as long as it is permitted,” said Dirk Zimmermann, a Greenpeace specialist on genetic engineering. “Agriculture Minister Schmidt must legally anchor national cultivation bans in the genetic engineering law.”

The “menacing patchwork” in Europe is dangerous enough for GMO-free agriculture, Zimmermann pointed out. “Scattered regionalism within Germany would be absolutely unacceptable.” Greenpeace is calling on regional ministers to demand a national cultivation ban on genetically modified plants from Germany’s Agriculture Minister.

Last September, the conference of Germany’s regional agriculture ministers already unanimously voted for a national cultivation ban. Now from 18-20 March, the state of Hesse will head up a 2015 spring agriculture minister conference in Bad Homburg. Key issues on the conference agenda are improving animal welfare in livestock farming, the EU’s regulation on organic farming, upcoming changes on the milk market, and calls for a national cultivation ban on genetically modified plants.

“The regions do not want a patchwork but a national regulation,” said Hesse’s Agriculture Minister Priska Hinz. “If we decide on a unanimous position at the agriculture minister conference, we have a good chance of securing a majority in the Bundesrat as well for a national regulation.”

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