Use of genetically modified organisms still a sensitive topic in EU

February 20, 2004

Brussels, 19 Feb 2004

On 11 February, the German government passed a bill codifying European Union legislation for the cultivation and export of genetically modified organisms (GMO) into national law. Following suit, the UK government seems set to give the green light to genetically modified (GM) farming despite fears of public outcry.

In Germany, one of the European countries most sceptical about the technology, the new bill has been heavily criticised by both the biotech industry and environmental groups.

Agrar, the German pesticide and crop care industry association, claims that the bill will inhibit the fair use of so-called 'green genetic technologies' rather than permit them as intended. Friends of the Earth Germany, BUND, on the other hand, has criticised the government for not doing enough to protect organic farming.

The Minister for Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture, Renate Künast, admitted that 'Germany now has the strictest rules in the EU governing GM farming.'

The new law requires farmers who grow GM crops to undertake to keep contamination to zero and establishes a list of 'good farming practices.'

'Should it turn out in the process of GMO cultivation that neighbouring conventional or organic farming units are affected in a negative way, the bill provides the instruments for speedy lawsuits,' Ms Künast explained in a statement. 'Such lawsuits may be initiated if, for instance, a conventional farmer can no longer sell his produce under a specific high-quality or ecological label because his crops have been contaminated by GM strains.'

It is precisely those compensation rules that have proved to be the main contentious issue for both sides. While BUND claims that 'The rules on how to grow GM crops need to be made clearer. And the burden of proving that crops have been contaminated should not fall on the farmers themselves', Ricardo Gent of the German Industrial Association for Biotechnology argues that the extremely strict rules will discourage farmers from growing GM crops.

'Brussels opened the door for growing genetically improved plants in Europe; the German government now wants to slam it shut again,' Mr Gent said, maintaining that the law as a whole would act as a brake to biotechnological research.

Federal Minister for Education and Research, Edelgard Bulmahn, on the other hand, insists that the new law is 'an important signal to the biotech industry in Germany' as it provides a clear legal framework while protecting consumers and farmers.

In a related move, the UK government also appears on the verge of allowing limited use of GMO. Despite a recent survey showing that most Britons believe GM crops should never be introduced, Agriculture Secretary Margaret Beckett argues that there is no scientific case for a ban on GM crops. An announcement by Ms Beckett is expected shortly.

For more information on European legislation on foodstuff, please visit: http://europa.eu.int/scadplus/leg/en/s87 000.htm

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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