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Germany to ban US biotech giant's genetically modified corn strain

Germany has decided to ban genetically modified corn, Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner announced Tuesday, amid concerns over its environmental and economical impact.

A corn cob and a GenFood label

Fears over GM corn's effects on the food chain have led to the ban

Aigner announced a ban on the cultivation of US biotech giant Monsanto's genetically modified corn strain MON 810 after considering a number of studies.

The MON 810 strain is the only genetically modified (GM) crop approved in the European Union and was approved for commercial use in the EU in 1998. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has said the strain of corn was safe despite widespread doubts.

MON 810 seeds are the only genetically modified seed currently allowed on German soil.

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.

MON 810 includes a gene which protects it against a pest, the European corn borer butterfly.

Aigner, who has the support of environmental federations and politicians across party lines, had reviewed several critical studies on the environmental consequences of planting the seed, as well as drawing on a report by Monsanto which had declared their product safe.

Calls for German-wide ban across party lines

Agriculture and Consumer protection minister Ilse Aigner

Ilse Aigner calls time on GM crops in Germany

Politicians from Aigner's own Christian Social Union (CSU) party, the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), as well as from the Green Party and the Left Party, have called for a long-term ban on the cultivation of GM crops with Bavarian Environment Secretary Markus Soeder (CSU) leading the calls for Germany to become a "GM-free zone."

Opponents of GM crops say that they fear the effects the crops may have on the environment and animal life. They are also concerned that pollen from GM crops could be dispersed far from the land where they are grown, contaminating conventional crops.

Europe remains divided on whether GM corn is safe and whether to allow its widespread use across the continent despite it being given a green light by the EU's executive body to be grown in the block.

The EU in December adopted a series of measures aimed at overcoming the differences and reaching unified decisions.

The member states notably recommended that the EFSA should be Europe's final arbiter on the safety of GM crops, but with input from national bodies. They also agreed that decisions should take into account the medium- and long-term environmental impact of any decision, not just the health aspects.

Commission facing on-going mutiny over GM crops

A corn cob

MON 810 is being grown in a number of EU countries

However, the European Commission has been struggling with a mutiny within the EU where a number of countries have retained bans on the growing of GM crops despite its best efforts to persuade them to comply.

Only last month, Germany, along with at least 20 other EU member states, voted down a European Commission attempt to have Austria and Hungary lift bans on growing maize.

EU environment ministers, meeting in Brussels on March 2, voted against forcing Vienna and Budapest to allow Monsanto's MON810 GM grain to be grown in their countries.

Only four EU nations -- Britain, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden -- supported the Commission's effort to have the Austrian and Hungarian bans lifted.

Under EU law, member states can legislate a national ban on genetically modified organisms (GMO) if the government in question can justify the prohibition.

It was the third time that the Commission had tried to force Austria to lift its ban, and the second time for Hungary. Austria also has a "safeguard" ban on Germany's Bayer AG's T25 GM corn.

Both varieties have been approved for use in the EU by the Commission, but debate in Europe continues over the potential of GM seeds to accidentally spread and adversely affect natural surroundings and adjacent farms.

Greens urge vigilance against Commission efforts

Monsanto HQ in St.Louis, Missouri, USA.

Monsanto is facing stiff opposition in Europe

The March defeat followed a similar vote in February, which foiled the European Commission's attempts to force France and Greece to allow GM corn from Monsanto to be grown in their fields.

Nine of the 27 EU nations supported the Commission's call for the ban to be lifted, while 16 opposed it or abstained.

Monica Frassoni, co-leader of the Green group in the European Parliament, urged vigilance against the Commission's attempt to make member states allow GM crops to be grown.

"We must remain vigilant because it is not the first time that the Commission has tried to force the hand of those member states that are most resistant to the growing of genetically modified maize," she said. "The challenge now is to secure a majority big enough to reject the commission's proposal."

French watchdog contradicts Sarkozy on ban

Only a week before the February vote, France's food watchdog AFSSA concluded that genetically-modified corn from Monsanto was safe, contradicting an earlier report that had led to a ban.

Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy's government banned GM crops but the watchdog says they're safe

The AFSSA report, which became public after it was revealed in the daily Le Figaro, angered environmentalists and embarrassed President Nicolas Sarkozy's government, which had resorted to a special EU measure to outlaw the crops.

The agency said there was no evidence to support the view that MON810 posed a health risk. It was the only strain of GM corn under cultivation in France before the ban.

Sarkozy's government slapped a ban on GM crops in February last year after a panel of experts said in a separate report that they had "serious doubts" about the Monsanto product.

France invoked a European Union safeguard giving member states authority to ban a GM crop provided there was scientific evidence to back the decision.

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