Germany's new GMO law fails to appease either side of the argument

February 11, 2004, The new German Federal law intended to prevent the contamination of non-GMO crops by genetically engineered crops is coming under fire by both sides of the debate. Environmentalist and consumer protection organizations lament that the rules are too lax and don’t do enough to protect against contamination while, proponents of biotechnology, including the German Farmers’ Union DBV, argue that the rules will all but kill the possibility of growing GMO crops in Germany.

In response, Federal Minister for Research, Edelgard Bulmahn offered reassurances that both research interests and consumer protections were considered before the Cabinet decision was issued.

Minister for Consumer Protection Renate Kuenast said that the most important issue is to guarantee over the long term the production of non-GMO crops free of genetic engineering in Germany. There should not be a "creeping dominance" of genetically modified cultivations, she said. By autumn 2004 the law should be passed by both chambers of the parliament (Bundestag and Bundesrat).

The rules are coming narrowly ahead of the first GMO test plantings, which several newspapers are reporting, can be expected this spring.

Among other things, the law takes a stand the hotly-debated issue of the liability laying responsibility in cases of contamination of conventionally cultivated fields by GM-fields on the farmers growing the GM-crops. All fields planted with GMOs will be recorded in a site register. The controversy in the decision reached has risen over the idea of joint liability. This means that several farmers cultivating GMOs can be held jointly liable if the contamination of a GMO-free area is proved.

Helmut Heiderich, speaker for genetic engineering in the Christian Democratic Party called the new liability rules as useless. Also the Farmers' Union criticized the liability rules as completely unacceptable. The association of agricultural industries (Industrieverband Agrar, IVA) wants "green genetic engineering" to be given a fair chance.

The ban on cultivation of GMOs, in place in the EU for six years, will be abolished shortly. By 18 April a labelling requirement for GM products will be in force EU-wide. In case of violation, penalties of up to 50,000 Euros can be imposed.

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