|Europe Holding Firm Against
The Institute of Science in Society
Science Society Sustainability http://www.i-sis.org.uk
ISIS Press Release 11/01/05
A strict German law to protect GM-free agriculture
followed by majority votes against lifting bans on GM
food and feed. Mae-Wan Ho and Rhea Gala
Germany passes first anti-GM Law
German Agriculture Minister Renate Kunäst hailed
as a major victory a new highly restrictive genetically
modified (GM) crops law passed by the German Parliament
on 26 November 2004. The new law requires GM crop growers
to publicly register the exact location of fields, and
holds those planting GM crops liable for economic damages
to neighbouring non-GM fields even if planting instructions
and other regulations were followed.
Ms Kunäst praised the new law as a success for
consumer protection and for farmers who want to cultivate
GM-free. "Germany is one of the first EU countries
to create a legal framework for the protection of GM-free
agriculture," she said. Germany was in a hurry
after the EU Commission cancelled Europe’s de
facto moratorium on GMOs, she added, and urgently needed
regulations to protect GM-free agriculture against contamination.
The new law introduces the principle that GM farmers
and GM operators are financially liable for economic
damage caused if their crops contaminate non-GM products.
It takes a proactive stance against GMOs, and protects
organic farms and non-GM conventional farms against
insidious dominance of GMOs. It also protects ecologically
sensitive zones against transgenic contamination. It
lays down rules for good professional practice such
as minimum separation distances, documentation, and
use of GMO fertilizers. And companies are bound by law
to inform growers about compliance with the demands
of good professional practice by means of an instruction
leaflet; and are liable for incorrect product information.
Reaction to the new law is mixed. Dr Felix Prinz zu
Löwenstein, chairman of the Federation of the Organic
Food Industry (BÖLW), is happy with the result.
"We think it is especially important that the liability
for damage caused by cross-breeding and mixing are clearly
assigned to the genetic engineering users". He
also suggested that the new law would act as a signal
for other European countries.
In contrast, the German Farmers Association (DBV) criticized
the decision of the parliament, a DBV press report advised
all farmers not to cultivate GMOs because co-existence
is not achievable.
Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth (FoE), Europe,
said "This law is good news for hundreds of millions
of Europeans who do not wish to participate in the biggest
biological experiment of our time, and who want to eat
food that is GM-free. This law should now be the benchmark
for similar legislation in other EU member states".
The law received a predictably negative response from
the bioscience community, where German researchers and
industry said that liability for economic damage will
create a financial risk that some German universities,
research organizations and companies will not take.
Mark Stitt, managing director of the Max Planck Institute
of Molecular Plant Physiology said "I think the
law, as it now stands, will have a detrimental effect
on innovation in Germany…Firms will be leaving
Germany". He said that the law goes far beyond
EU GM law that allows non-GM plants to be contaminated
with up to 0.9 percent of pollen from neighbouring GM
However, in Germany, "bio" (organic) products
must contain less than 0.1 percent of GM contamination
to retain the bio stamp.
Jens A Katzek, CEO of BIO Mitteldeutschland GmbH, which
promotes the biotech industry in central Germany said
that his own state, Saxony-Anhalt, has already announced
that it will challenge the new law in the federal court.
The law also contains loopholes that need improvement;
and, most importantly, hardly covers damage to the environment
caused by GM crops. The protection offered to ecologically
sensitive zones only covers ‘Nature 2000’
areas that are only 2.5 percent of the area of Germany.
FoE is also concerned that the European Commission
might overrule the German law by taking Germany to the
European Court of Justice. In a leaked document (available
from FoE) dated June 2004, the Commission has already
hinted at this. But the EC suffered a setback in trying
to force European countries to lift their bans on GMOs.
European countries voted by large majority against
lifting bans on GMOs
On 30 November 1004, EU environmental experts voted
by a large majority against proposals to overturn the
bans on genetically modified (GM) crops in five countries;
the group also failed to reach a majority decision on
clearing a GM crop ingredient for the European food
The group rejected proposals from the European Commission
calling for five European countries Austria, France,
Germany, Greece and Luxembourg to repeal their
bans on specific GMOs within 20 days.
The bans, introduced between 1997 and 2000, involved
three maize and two rapeseed varieties approved before
the EU began its unofficial biotech ban in 1998 that
ended earlier this year.
Every single one of the Commission's proposals failed
to get the required qualified majority of 232 votes
out of 321.
The results, representing a majority against GM, were
On lifting the bans on Syngenta’s Bt176 maize
in Germany, Austria and Luxembourg: in favour, 54 votes;
against, 221 votes; abstained, 46 votes
On lifting the ban on Bayer’s T25 maize in Austria;
in favour, 54 votes; against, 221 votes; abstained,
On lifting the ban on Monsanto’s MON810 maize
in Austria: in favour, 73 votes; against, 178 votes;
abstained, 70 votes
On lifting the ban on Bayer’s oilseed rape Topas
19/2 in France and Greece: in favour, 54 votes; against,
178 votes; abstained, 89 votes
On lifting the ban on Bayer’s oilseed rape MS1xRf1
in France: in favour, 54 votes; against, 178 votes;
abstained: 89 votes
The Commission’s proposals are seen as a direct
result of the trade dispute in the World Trade Organisation
(WTO) started last year by the United States, Argentina
and Canada. The three countries claim that Europe’s
precautionary stance on GM food, including the national
bans, are a barrier to free trade and harm their farmers.
The WTO has set up a three-person panel currently meeting
in secret to decide the case, with the final verdict
expected next year.
The Commission’s proposals will now go to a Council
of Ministers meeting in the new year. If no decision
is taken after three months, as is likely, the Commission
can adopt it under a legal loophole.
Despite tough new European rules enforced in April
to track and label GMOs, food makers are opting to skip
GM ingredients in Europe because they know the European
consumer will refuse to buy GM food products.
At the same meeting, the environmental experts failed,
again, to allow Monsanto’s genetically modified
maize MON 863 for import and processing into the EU.
MON 863 was cleared earlier this year by the European
Food Safety Authority (EFSA); but two months ago member
states failed to give it the green light.
On 20 December, EU environment ministers blocked the
approval of Monsanto’s GM oilseed rape GT73 with
a vote of 135 against, 78 for, and 108 abstentions.
Member State experts had already failed to reach agreement
on this in June 2004, and the opposition vote appeared
to have grown since.
The United Kingdom was among the abstentions. Its official
advisors on GM foods and feeds were "not satisfied
with the explanation that Monsanto has provided for
the observed increased liver weight in rats fed GT73"
and are not convinced by EFSA’s assurance that
GT 73 "is as safe as conventional oilseed rape
for humans and animals, and in the context of the proposed
uses, for the environment."
Bite Back! Sign the citizens’ objection online
"Breaking News on Food & Beverage Development,
Monsanto GM ingredient rejected" Food Navigator.com
Europe 30.11.04 http://foodnavigator.com/news/ng.asp?id=56438&n=dh335&c=ioycgujovowudvq
Europe votes to keep GM crops bans http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=4674
EU ministers block Monsanto’s GM oilseed rape.
FoE Press Release 20 December 2004