American biotech firms want to use legal action to force Germany to approve their genetically modified maize for cultivation.
US seed firms want to grow in Germany
The America seed companies Monsanto and Pioneer are trying to get provisional approval to cultivate their pest-resistant maize, Mon 810, in Germany, according to German consumer protection authorities.
But Alexander Müller of the consumer protection office says he doesn't believe that Mon 810 can be legally approved as seed. "It is not allowed under European law," he told the German public broadcaster ARD. For the past seven years, Mon 810 has been approved in the EU only as feed and as food. Cultivation of the crop was explicitly excluded.
But the EU Commission, in contrast, says that Mon 810, also as seed, is legal and must be allowed to be used in Germany, a commission spokeswoman told ARD. The maize has been included in the collective EU catalogue of allowable imports since 2004, authorizing its use.
"It must be allowed to be imported into Germany," a spokeswoman for the European Commission said.
Spanish use contentious maize
Last year, the EU Commission approved 17 types of maize in the Mon 810 line after Spain experienced no problems with its cultivation. But according to Müller, that approval might need to be examined by European Court of Justice, Müller said. "If our legal interpretation is correct, the Spanish will have to see if their approval was legitimate."
Many still oppose genetic tinkering
The environmental watchdog group Greenpeace is one of the groups opposed to the cultivation of Mon 810, saying that the crop can harm butterflies. Greece, Austria, Poland and Hungary have not given the go-ahead for the cultivation of Mon 810. Still, German regulators have been testing the line for several years. Regardless of the legal fight, the crop is already being cultivated in Germany on a trial basis.
EU still wary
On a global scale, the use of genetically modified (GM) crops is increasing, with the world’s overall area of approved GM crops now at well over 80 million hectares (8 billion acres). So far, maize, soybeans, rapeseed and cotton account for the bulk of biotech crops on the market.
The corn is being tested in Germany
But most EU member countries, including Germany, have remained extremely wary of biotech crop technologies. Concerns include giving multinational corporations control of basic food products through gene patents, the possibility of spreading allergens through genetic manipulations and the spread of resistance to antibiotics used in genetic engineering -- concerns that are shared by non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace.
"There's not much research done on the risks of GM plants on the environment or on human health," Ulrike Brendel, a Greenpeace spokesperson for the GM issue, told DW-WORLD.
Germany approved the growing of genetically modified crops in Germany last year under a controversial law that imposes strict penalties for possible violations of food-safety regulations. The law also requires the labeling of foodstuffs produced with genetically modified organisms and allows conventional farmers to file for damages if other growers contaminating their fields with GM seeds.