BERLIN, Germany, November
29, 2004 (ENS): The lower house of the German Parliament
has approved a new law that protects consumers and farmers against
the risks of genetically modified (GM) foods and crops. Led by the
Social Democratic and Green parties, the legislators adopted a measure
based on the principle that growers of transgenic crops are financially
liable for economic damage caused if their crops contaminate organic
or conventionally grown products.
The new law, passed on Friday, provides that when organic or conventional
farmers cannot sell their products due to the presence of GM material,
the neighboring farmers growing GM crops are liable.
The measure now must pass the upper house of parliament. The parliamentary
procedure is likely to be completed by the end of 2004, the German
Agriculture Ministry said.
Growers of genetically modified crops have an obligation to take
precautionary action to prevent "material negative effects"
of of their crops, in particular compliance with "good farming
practice" in the cultivation of GM crops, the law provides.
A "material negative effect" arises, the law provides,
- products cannot be placed on the market because of cross-contamination
with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This situation may
arise where owing to cross-contamination with GMOs released, for
example, in a field trial, a neighboring farmer can no longer
market his products because they contain traces of GMOs that have
not been authorized to be placed on the market.
- owing to cross-contamination with GMOs a neighboring farmer
is obliged to label his produce as "genetically modified,"
- owing to the presence of GMOs, a neighboring farmer is no longer
able to label his produce as "organic" or as produced
"without genetic modification" within the meaning of
Under European Union legislation, all food and feed containing,
consisting of or produced from GMOs must be labeled "genetically
modified." If the content of genetically modified material
amounts to less than 0.9 percent of the relevant ingredient, labeling
is not mandatory if the presence of the material is unintended or
If it is not clear which farmer has caused the contamination, the
principle of joint liability of all neighboring GMO farmers will
apply. That means a farmer who has sustained damage will be free
to decide which neighbor to claim compensation from.
A register with precise information about where GM crops are intended
to be released will be publicly available. The site register will
let farmers farmers know exactly where in their neighborhoods GM
crops are being cultivated.
The law limits the area where genetically modified plants can be
grown in Germany.
Farmers planting GM seeds will be required to adhere to strict
regulations, including the requirement that a minimum distance be
kept from non-GM fields. They must take steps to prevent the spread
of pollen from GM plants.
"In the interest of farmers and consumers, we do not want
genetically altered foods to sneak uncontrolled and initially unnoticed
onto our grocery shelves," said Herta Däubler-Gmelin,
a parliamentarian from the SPD.
Conservative opposition politicians and agricultural interests
argue that the restrictions will make it difficult for any farmers
to grow genetically modified crops.
Friends of the Earth says the law's provisions will give GM farmers
and GM operators a strong incentive not to contaminate neighboring
fields, helping to ensure the freedom of choice for the majority
of consumers in Germany and the European Union who do not want to
eat GM foods.
Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth 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.”
There are loopholes in the law, including the fact that it does
not really cover damage to the environment as a result of GM crops.
The protection that the law offers for ecologically sensitive zones
is restricted to Natura 2000 areas, which only form 2.5 percent
of the surface of Germany.
Friends of the Earth is concerned that the European Commission
might want to overrule the German law by taking Germany to the European
Court of Justice. In a document from July 2004 leaked to the organization,
the Commission hinted that it might consider this type of action.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights Reserved.