December 3, 2004, Kristina Merkner, http://tinyurl.com/create.php ,
CropChoice.com: A new law that takes effect
next year will allow farmers to cultivate genetically
modified organisms on German fields. A victory for farmers
against Greenpeace, it seems. But farmers and plant
breeders are not happy about the new law, which they
say will actually keep farmers from exploiting the potential
of gene splicing.
"In essential aspects, the law bears the handwriting
of the Green coalition partner," said the managing
director of Germany's association of plant breeders
(BDP), Ferdinand Schmitz, referring to the Green party.
"Its goal is to prevent genetic engineering. It's
another setback for Germany as an innovative business
location," Schmitz said.
The law on genetic engineering in agriculture, which
parliament passed last Friday, was drafted by Agriculture
Minister Renate K¸nast of the Green party. On
paper, it allows the commercial cultivation of genetically
modified organisms. In practice, however, little will
change, since the risks to farmers are too high.
The law, which will take effect in January, entitles
conventional farmers to claim compensation if their
crops are contaminated by genetically modified organisms.
Contamination takes place when conventional plants
are pollinated from genetically modified crops in a
nearby field. If the culprit cannot be identified, all
non-conventional farmers in the area will be held liable.
Since cross-pollination cannot be ruled out even if
minimum distances are adhered to, the German Farmers'
Association (DBV) fears that the regulations will keep
German farmers from experimenting with genetically modified
Genetically modified crops, which are resistant to
herbicides, are common in other countries such as Argentina
and the United States, where one-third of all corn crops
are genetically modified. The only EU country that has
already introduced commercial gene splicing is Spain,
where around 20,000 hectares of modified corn are being
In Germany, 60 percent of DBV's farmers have now said
in a survey that the liability risk will keep them from
cultivating genetically modified plants. At the same
time, two-thirds of them said gene splicing was necessary
to remain competitive. "As a consequence of the
law, research and development activities will not be
undertaken, which are necessary to examine the opportunities
and risks of green biotechnology without prejudice,"
said DBV president Gerd Sonnleitner.
While the law was being drafted, he had suggested that
farmers could not be held liable if they adhered to
certain security standards and that conventional farmers
would in such cases be compensated out of a common fund
maintained by all farmers and plant breeders.
Schmitz said that German farmers will earn between
Euro 30 and Euro 50 less per hectare if they stick to
conventional plants. "There is also reason to fear
that research and development activities will be relocated
Similar concerns had been voiced in the Bundesrat,
the German parliamentary chamber representing the federal
states. Baden-W¸rttemberg's state premier, Erwin
Teufel, called the law a "de-facto ban" on
green biotechnology. The Bundesrat parliamentary chamber
of state representatives also criticized the law, which
aims to fulfill an EU directive calling for clear rules
on the coexistence of genetically modified and conventional
crops. The opposition Christian Democrats, which control
the Bundesrat, said the government clearly overshot
the mark since the law prevents rather than enables
the coexistence of conventional and genetically modified
crops in Germany.
But on Friday, the German parliament overturned the
Bundesrat's decision to reject the law. Since the law
does not directly concern the federal states, the Bundestag
parliament was able to pass it without the consent of
the Bundesrat. The federal state of Saxony-Anhalt has
already said that it would take the law to the constitutional
court, and the EU commission has voiced doubts that
the law is in keeping with the underlying directive.
A ray of hope for Schmitz, who is "confident that
the last word on the law on genetic engineering has
not been spoken."