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Germany

German press review: GM corn ban, environmental victory or vote winner?

Germans are divided on the government's decision to ban genetically modified corn over environmental concerns. If nature was a business what would it say?

A corn plant

GM opponents fear the effects modified crops may have on other plants and animals

German Agriculture Minister Isle Aigner announced a ban on the cultivation of US biotech giant Monsanto's genetically modified corn strain MON 810 on Tuesday after considering a number of studies. Monsanto's seed was due to be planted on 3,600 hectares (9,000 acres) of German farm land this year, predominantly in the east of the country. The MON 810 strain is the only genetically modified crop approved in the European Union.

Some German media commentators say the agriculture minister's environmental concerns were well founded, but others have questioned her motives.

"As long as there are any doubts, Germany should follow the example of other EU countries and prevent the cultivation of GM corn - or at least impose a moratorium," writes the Sueddeutsche Zeitung from Munich. "But that would have to happen quickly, before new seeds are planted. The decision will always be controversial, but it would be embarrassing if the governing coalition avoided acting until after the next election."

"A minister has no choice; one has to make a decision that is both politically acceptable and realistic," says the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "Agriculture Minister Aigner has made her decision on the GM corn issue and has banned its cultivation with immediate effect and on a continuing basis. Her reasons may be numerous. One of them is fears based on observations that Mon 810 is more damaging to the environment than its advocates suggest. The fact that only water fleas and butterflies have so far been harmed does not refute warnings of unforeseeable consequences. Who knows how many humans will soon have to endure the same fate as those small creatures?"

"Aigner has to decide now if she wants to ban MON 810 from German fields," writes the Berliner Zeitung. "The damage that genetically modified crops can cause to the animal and plant worlds - from mutation to reduced biodiversity - is not foreseeable. If nature were a business like Monsanto, with press spokespeople and bags of money for good lawyers, then it would have won the genetic modification case long ago, and it wouldn't be governments who were worried about claims for compensation, but rather seed producers. Aigner should turn herself into a lawyer for nature and ban GM corn in Germany - even if within her [Bavarian] CSU party there is more consideration of election tactics than there is ecological conviction."

"The first thoroughly Bavarian political reason [for Aigner's decision]: The farmers in Bavaria oppose genetically modified corn, and so does the CSU," comments the Financial Times Deutschland. "If Aigner had allowed the cultivation of GM corn, it probably would have cost her votes at the European parliamentary elections in June, and probably in the German federal election too. The CSU's popularity among voters is not so great that she could have allowed GM corn. The second reason is more substantial: There is a deep mistrust of genetic modification. Germans are prepared to accept every artificial flavor, every preservative or any other dubious ingredient in food - but when it's a question of genetic modification, they want nothing to do with it."

"Fear has won again - or to be more precise, the CSU's fear in the lead up to the European elections," writes Die Welt. "For years a green-conservative splinter group, the Ecological Democratic Party, has been the fear-monger in villages in Bavaria, spreading rumors and false allegations about genetic engineering. Because nobody took a stand against them, an active movement has developed, based on unsettled farmers and city eco-esoterics, who have made the CSU scared. … Queasy feelings are dictating politics."

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