New German genetic engineering law and reactionsA milestone for the retention of GMO-free agriculture was set by the German parliament on 26 November. The federal council’s veto of the bill was overruled by the majority vote of the red-green coalition.
A milestone for the retention of GMO-free agriculture was set by the German parliament on 26 November. The federal council’s veto of the bill was overruled by the majority vote of the red-green coalition. This means the way is clear for the highly controversial act already passed in June. The conventional farming side particularly fears the liability independent of blame, which allows farmers suffering GMO damage to lodge claims for damages against farmers growing genetically modified plants, without having to prove in detail that individual farmers are to blame. The act comes into force on 1.1.2005.
Consumer Minister Renate Künast (photo) praised the genetic engineering law passed by the German Parliament originally on 18.06.2004 as a success for consumer protection and for farmers who want to cultivate gmo-free. “Germany is one of the first EU countries to create a legal framework for the protection of gmo-free agriculture”, said Künast. The parliamentary parties of the social democrats and greens had decided to change the bill for a new genetic engineering law from a bill requiring approval into one not needing
approval. “We were in a hurry”, explained the minister. “After the EU Commission cancelled the de facto moratorium on the gmo issue in the EU, we urgently needed regulations to protect gmo-free agriculture against considerable impairments through cross-breeding, additions and other gmo access. This is exactly what the new genetic engineering law does”.
Fundamental elements of the law:
– Protection of gmo-free agriculture: organic farms and gmo-free conventional farms are protected against insidious dominance of gmo
– Regulation of liability: farmers that use genetic engineering are liable jointly and severally for gmo pollution in gmo-free farms, irrespective of fault.
– Location register: public federal register with detailed information about land plots on which gmo are cultivated.
– Extended retention period: for security reasons the data must be saved up to 15 years.
– Protection of ecologically sensitive zones: the change of the federal environmental law (§ 34 a) allows the direct intervention of the nature protection authorities in order to guarantee the protection of ecologically sensitive zones against gmo pollution.
– Conduct regulation: the Federal Office for Nature Protection (BfN), the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Groceries Security (BVL) are to be involved in the issue and release of genetically modified organisms. If there is any dissent between the authorities involved, the Federal Consumer Protection Ministry can clarify through briefing.
– Good professional practice: current demands were embodied: minimum distances, documentation duties, rules for the use of gmo fertilizers.
– Product information duty: gmo merchandisers are bound to inform about compliance with the demands of good professional practice by means of an instruction leaflet. They are liable for incorrect product information.
Federation of the Organic Food Industry (BÖLW) welcomes the new law
The changes in transparency and liability meet important BÖLW demands for the genetic engineering law.
BÖLW chairman Dr. Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein (photo) is
satisfied with the result: “We think it is especially important that the liability for damage caused by cross-breeding and mixing are clearly assigned to the causers: genetic engineering users”. The German genetic engineering law acts as a signal for other European countries, continues Löwenstein.
BÖLW also welcomes the regulation that gmo issuers will be liable: “It must be obvious that persons who use genetic engineering for the purpose of earning money have to be liable for potential damage”, said Dr. Alexander Gerber, manager of BÖLW. The nationwide, public federal register with detailed information about the plots of land where gmo is cultivated fulfils another important BÖLW demand.
By contrast, the German Farmers Association (DBV) criticized the decision of the German Parliament. “The security of coexistence is not achieved, so the DBV would advise all farmers not to cultivate genetically modified plants”, states a DBV press report. (02.07.04/3.12.04)