Carrying out a European Union directive, Germany's governing coalition of Social Democrats and Greens has reached an agreement on how to regulate genetically modified crops.
GM corn could be approved for sale in the European Union this summer
After months of wrangling, the federal government has reached a consensus on a genetic engineering law that will allow GM food to be grown and sold in Germany. The bill is meant to establish a framework for farmers who want to grow GM crops as well as to ensure that consumers will be able to choose whether they want to buy the foods, which have generated considerable controversy and debate across Europe.
"We have come to an agreement," Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Minister Renate Künast told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper. "The law will be passed by the cabinet in February."
The draft requires that all GM foods must be clearly labelled. But consumers could still be left in the dark if the genetically modified elements can no longer be detected -- as could be the case in animals that have been fed GM foods.
Counter to the Social Democrats' original intentions, the law is not intended to promote biotechnology, Green minister Künast stressed. Genetic engineering could only be encouraged as long as "consumer protection, ethical values, the principle of provisions and the environmental aspects" were born in mind she told the newspaper.
GM foods for fall
Renate Künast, Minister for Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture
"I reckon that, at the latest, genetically modified corn will appear on European supermarket shelves in the autumn," Künast said. The European Union, not the individual countries, is responsible for authorizing GM products for sale among member states. Künast said she expected the EU to approve a GM corn variety for sale for the first time in the summer.
The new legislation comes in response to a European Parliament law passed in July that effectively lifted a five-year moratorium on the sale of GM foods in Europe as long as they are properaly labelled.
Künast emphasized that she doesn't see a necessity for GM food, adding that German businesses are skeptical about selling the products.
So far, there is no scientific evidence that genetically modified foods are dangerous to people's health. But that has done little to close a gap in thinking between Americans and Europeans over bio-engineered crops and food.
GM technology is generally viewed with skepticism in Europe and numerous surveys show that health and environmentally-conscious consumers tend to question the food on their plate before swallowing it.
European environmentalists have repeatedly voiced concern about the health risks and the threat to the environment and say not enough independent studies have been conducted to prove the gene-altering technology is safe.
The EU imposed a moratorium on the farming and import of GM foods and grains in 1998 due to safety concerns. Except for the import of approved strains of GM corn and soybeans for use in food products, EU states banned most GM crops. It has also restricted GM field trials.