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Europe

Schröder's Reluctant Cabinet To Allow GMO Foods

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's cabinet on Wednesday approved a bill regulating the cultivation of genetically modified organisms. The bill would make it legal for German farmers and supermarkets to sell GMO goods.

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Nature or BT-176?

The bill passed by Germany's ministers aims to codify European Union legislation and guidelines for the cultivation and export of genetically modified organisms (GMO) into national law.

Several days ago, EU Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne criticized the German government for dragging its feet on regulating the export and import of GM foodstuffs out of fears that the products could swamp the market. But with a new set of regulations in place, EU member states no longer have the right to exclude GMOs from their territory, neither from cultivation nor from supermarket shelves.

On Wednesday, German Agriculture Minister Renate Künast conceded that her ministry could no longer prevent the cultivation of GM crops in Germany. But she pledged that her office would closely monitor crops.

Renate Künast bei der Eröffnung der Fruit Logistica

Renate Künast bei der Eröffnung der Fruit Logistica

"Should it turn out in the process of GMO cultivation that neighboring conventional or organic farming units are affected in a negative way, the bill provides the instruments for speedy lawsuits," Künast (photo) said. "Such lawsuits may be initiated if, for instance, a conventional farmer can no longer sell his produce under a specific high-quality or ecological label because his crops have been contaminated by GM strains.”

Critics: GMOs dangerous

But opponents of the use of GMOs are not convinced. They claim that not enough scientific evidence is available to gauge the impact of what they call GM-contaminated foodstuffs on humans.

"Genetically modified crops in general are dangerous for human health and also for the environment because what the g.e. (genetic engineering) industry is doing is putting new genes into new organisms, like taking a growth gene from a fish and putting it in a tomato," said Ulrike Brendel of Greenpeace Germany. "And of course nobody can predict what effects such a crude effort is having on human food and the environment."

Industry leaders claim that if the EU does not jump onto the GMO cultivation bandwagon, the continent may be left behind, then the continent will be left behind and put at a technological disadvantage over other countries who have deployed the cutting-edge agricultural methods.

But that may be a little off the mark, since few countries have adopted GMO foodstuffs despite a decade of attempts by American companies to promote genetically engineered agricultural technologies. Around 70 percent of land devoted to genetically engineered crops is in the United States, with almost all of the rest in Argentina and Canada. Most other countries have been put off by the potential risks.

Safeguards for conventional farmers

The new German bill doesn’t specify what steps GMO farmers here will have to do to protect neighboring areas from being effected by their crops. But in the event of contamination, the bill would allow for lawsuits to be filed and heard swiftly.

"Should it turn out in the process of GMO cultivation that neighbouring conventional or organic farming units are affected in a negative way," Künast said, "the bill provides the instruments for speedy lawsuits. Such lawsuits may be initiated, if for instance a conventional farmer can no longer sell his produce under a specific high-quality or ecological label because his crops have been contaminated by GM strains."

Künast also pointed out that it will be largely up to consumers to decide whether GMO foodstuffs become a major success in Germany. Mandatory labeling within the European Union informs consumers whether a product contains GMOs and thus gives them the freedom to decide what they want to place on their dinner tables.

The bill must still be approved in a vote by Germany's parliament, the Bundestag.

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