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Europe

Spain: The Promised Land for GM Corn

Spain is home to the greatest amount of genetically modified food production in Europe. The experience gained there could prove valuable for Germany and the rest Europe.

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Golden fields of GMOs

The use of genetically modified organisms remains a hot-button topic throughout most of European Union. And the German government, led by the Social Democrats and the Greens, isn't exactly seen as a friend of the GMO industry. Indeed, the pesticide and crop care industry association Agrar on Wednesday criticized remarks made by Consumer Protection Minister Renate Künast, a skeptic of GMOs, and a new government bill the industry says would inhibit the fair use of so-called "green genetic technologies" rather than permit them as intended.

But as Germany continues to debate how to deal with GMOs, it could look to the lessons learned in Spain, where GMOs have been widely embraced. The EU frontrunner in GM food production cultivates 32,000 hectares (79,000 acres) of GM crops.

BT-176 is one of the Spanish farmer's GM corns of choice. It's designed to be resistant to weeds and other pests, including the crop-wasting European corn borer. The fat white caterpillars regularly chew through Catalonian farmers' corn fields, ruining entire harvests. While few conventional varieties of corn can survive the onslaughts, BT-176 crops remain unaffected.

"We Spanish farmers have had very good experiences with GM corn. With a minimum of pesticides we have pests under control," Jesus Ribera of the Spanish young farmers association told Deutsche Welle. "That's good for the environment and good for the farmers because we don't lose any crops now."

Greater yields, more money

Spanish farmers are practically encouraged to cultivate GM corn. They reap greater crops and animal feed producers are willing to pay premium for the corn. Additionally, they are unhindered by any restrictions from the Spanish agricultural ministry.

"When someone consciously decides to sow GM corn, we know who does it where -- and it's fine," said Luis Bayon of the Ecological Agriculture Committee in Madrid. "But it's something else if someone thinks they're sowing conventional corn and genetically modified seeds are actually there."

The incident in Navarra

No one knows exactly what happens when the wind blows GM corn pollen onto conventional fields. But in 2001, organic farmers in northern Spanish region of Navarra were prohibited from selling their corn as organic because GM stock had strayed onto their fields. As yet, no fault has been determined in the case and the farmers have not been compensated.

The Spanish government has commissioned the University of Barcelona to investigate the consequences of genetic transfers, but the results of the research has not yet been released. Nevertheless, the government in Madrid approved five new sorts of GM corn in the last five years. Protest has come mostly from the usual suspects, including environmentalists such as Greenpeace. And even though many Spanish supermarket chains have "zero genetic technology" tolerance policies, the concerns of environmentalists and convention farmers are often plowed over.

"The conventional farmers don't want to allow any kind of commingling so that their harvest is pure," said Ribera. "That's why they now have a problem. Agriculture is just like life: Absolute purity doesn't exist."

DW recommends

  • Date 11.02.2004
  • Author Marc Koch
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4fNX
  • Date 11.02.2004
  • Author Marc Koch
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4fNX