Germany joins ranks of anti-GMO countries

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Berlin yesterday (14 April) joined France, Greece, Hungary and other EU countries opposed to GM crop cultivation by ordering a ban on Monsanto’s MON 810 maize, despite European rulings that the biotech grain is safe.

The US biotech company’s strain may no longer be sown for this summer’s harvest, German Agriculture and Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner told a news conference on Tuesday.

The move puts Germany alongside France, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Luxembourg, which have banned MON 810 maize despite its approval by the EU for commercial use throughout the bloc.

“I have come to the conclusion that there is a justifiable reason to believe that genetically modified maize of the type MON 810 presents a danger to the environment,” Aigner said, stressing that five other EU states had taken the same action.

The decision to ban was based on scientific factors and was not a political one, Aigner said. It was an individual case and not a fundamental decision against GMO crops, she added.

Commission to examine German decision

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has tried without success to get the bans in other countries lifted and on Tuesday warned it would examine the German decision. “The Commission will analyse the ban by Germany with the adequate scientific information support and the Commission will decide on the most appropriate follow-up toward this situation,” Commission spokeswoman Nathalie Charbonneau told a regular briefing.

Monsanto spokesman Andreas Thierfelder said the decision was unjustified and no supportable scientific reasons for the ban had been given. Should the ban be confirmed, Monsanto would consider legal options with the goal of enabling GMO seeds to be planted for this year’s harvest.

The MON 810 maize is resistant to corn borer, a butterfly whose caterpillars damage maize plants.

Aigner said her ministry would now prepare a report into Germany’s strategy on GMO crops. Aigner, who took office in October 2008, said previously she would review approval for cultivation of GMO maize in Germany before this year’s sowing took place in late April.

Monsanto gave German authorities a report on compliance with cultivation rules at the end of March.

German authorities had given Aigner differing assessments of the report, the minister said. But the Environment Ministry also believed GMOs presented a threat to the environment.

Bavaria planning to become GMO-free zone

The south German state of Bavaria welcomed the decision and now planned to become a GMO-free zone, Bavarian state Environment Minister Markus Soeder said.

Aigner’s decision was also welcomed by German environmentalist association BUND. 

“The suspicions that genetic maize damages nature and animals are so widespread that a ban is absolutely necessary,” BUND chairman Hubert Weiger said.

Environmental group Greenpeace called on Aigner to work inside the EU to stop further approvals of GMO maize.

German farmers have registered intentions to cultivate some 3,600 hectares of maize for the 2009 harvest, up from 3,200 hectares in 2008.

But the total is an insignificant part of Germany’s annual maize cultivation of around 1.8 to 2.0 million hectares. German farmers’ association DBV did not support or criticise the decision in a short statement, saying it expected the decision to have been made according to scientific principles.

“As in the public there is a deep divide between those who favour and oppose (GMO crops),” the DBV said.

Ferdinand Schmitz, chief executive of the association of German seed producers, said the decision was arbitrary and would damage Germany as a location for research.

Schmitz accused Aigner of trying to score points with voters in the upcoming European parliamentary elections and said banning seeds already approved as safe could generate legal action for compensation.

(EURACTIV with Reuters).

Background

EU environment ministers backed the right for individual countries to refuse GM crop cultivation when they blocked a European Commission proposal to force Hungary and Austria to lift national bans on MON 810 in March (EURACTIV 3/03/09). Twenty-two member states, representing 282 votes out of 345, voted against forcing the lifting of the bans.

The crop has been authorised for cultivation in the EU and has received the backing of EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority. 

In December 2008, EU environment ministers backed the possibility for member states to introduce GMO-free zones (EURACTIV 9/12/08).

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