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Germany

Discontent Simmers Over Change in German Farm Policy

A row over new Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer's plans to cut backing for ecological farming and pave the way for genetically modified crops continues in the Christmas season.

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The farm is now the battleground of a heated dispute in Germany

Germany's ministry for agriculture is fiercely denying reports about an impending U-turn in agricultural policies.

Opposition Green party leaders and some ruling Social Democrats are unhappy about Minister Horst Seehofer's remarks on the future of organic farming.

Horst Seehofer soll Agrarminister werden

Seehofer has sparked an outcry with his plans

After almost a decade of vast resources going into organic farming under the previous Social Democratic-Green party government, Seehofer said the grand coalition is not in a financial position to shell out extra money for a project that hasn't yielded the results once envisaged and hoped for by the ecologist Greens.

Despite massive financial shots in the arm, ecological farming still makes up less than 4 percent of overall farming in Germany.

Seehofer will have to save some 200 million euros ($237 million) in 2006. And to him it seems only logical that any previous, ideologically-driven projects will have to do without special help from the government.

"A more balanced approach"

A spokeswoman for the ministry, Ulrike Hinrichs, said that her boss didn't want to leave organic farmers to their own devices, but that he wanted a more balanced approach from now on.

Renate Künast

Seehofer's predecessor, Künast, a Green party member, was all for "bio"

"What he means is that he's not in favor of boosting organic farming exclusively without stirring a finger for conventional farming," Hinrichs said. "Mr. Seehofer is by no means intending to do away with organic farming. He's just aiming for a peaceful coexistence between the various production methods. He wants to let them develop according to demand and not impose any regulations predetermining which branch has to achieve what."

Despite the ministry's clarifications, some lawmakers insist that biological farming continues to deserve special treatment.

"Those who want to cut back on organic farming must know that they'll slow down the enormous growth rates that we've seen in the bio-farming sector of late," such as Social Democratic agricultural spokeswoman Waltraud Wolf said. She added that cuts would also jeopardise many otherwise sustainable jobs which have been created in the sector.

"After all, the market share for produce from organic farming has risen in Germany. If prices were to soar, we'd see a greater percentage of the domestic demand being met through imports, and this cannot really be in the interest of the government," Wolf said. "It's certainly not what the Social Democrats want, and we're prepared to put up a good deal of resistance."

Okaying GM food brings new problems

Seehofer has also openly voiced his support for genetically modified crops. His comments are in line with European Union-wide legislation that has opened up opportunities for companies such as Monsanto and Pioneer to conquer new markets.

There too, he has angered critics who consider coexistence between GM and non-GM-based production problematic.

Gentechnik - Maisanbau

GM food is still largely suspect in Germany

"It doesn't necessarily mean that genetically modified foodstuffs should not be produced at all," said Thomas Dosch of the German Association for Ecological Farming. "But consumers should certainly have a right to know what exactly they're buying."

However, Germany's limited food labeling requirements are little help to consumers trying to determine whether products contain GM traces or the remains of pesticides. And Seehofer hasn't indicted he's inclined to change them.

Still, opposition leaders and Social Democrats are hopeful that a new consumer information bill that Seehofer is expected to submit to parliament in January will change the situation.

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