INTERVIEW - Germany Considers Local Bans On GMO Crops - Minister
Author: Michael Hogan
BERLIN - Germany is considering permitting regional bans on cultivation of crops with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said on Friday.
GMO crops approved as safe by the European Union can be cultivated anywhere in the bloc.
But Aigner signalled that Germany might join several other EU member states which have imposed controversial GMO cultivation bans in the face of EU approvals.
"In the long term I do not believe that a national ban on cultivation is the correct route," she told Reuters. "Opinions in the federal republic (of Germany) differ greatly about this."
"I believe it would be more sensible to transfer the decision about the cultivation of genetically modified organisms to the regions."
"The federal states and local councils should be able to decide whether they want to renounce crops with genetic technology or not.
"I am currently in negotiations with colleagues in the federal government about this."
France, Greece, Austria and Hungary have bans on growing GMO crops. On March 2, EU states voted to stop the EU Commission ordering Austria and Hungary to lift their GMO cultivation restrictions.
MON 810 maize, developed and marketed by US biotech company Monsanto, is the only GM crop that may be commercially grown in the EU.
Aigner, who took office in October 2008, said previously she would separately consider revoking permission for growing MON 810 maize in Germany if strict rules governing cultivation were not obeyed.
Monsanto is due to give German authorities a report on compliance with cultivation rules this month, Aigner said.
"I will then make a rapid decision," she said.
The report is due only about two weeks before German farmers start sowing this year's GMO maize seeds.
"The sowing should take place in the second half of April depending on the weather," she said.
Asked about the closeness of the report date and this year's sowing, she said: "I do not find this situation satisfactory".
German farmers have currently registered intentions to plant 3,668 hectares of GMO maize for the 2009 harvest, up from 3,207 hectares in 2008.
The total is an insignificant part of the German annual maize cultivation of around 1.8 to 2.0 million hectares.
Aigner, who is also responsible for consumer protection, said the German public was unconvinced of the need for GMO crops.
"Consumers see no benefit from the cultivation of GMO maize," she said. "The genetic changes are basically a replacement for plant protection chemicals, about whose use no one is shouting about anyway."
Biotechnology for use in medicines was a separate issue where advantages were apparent, said Aigner.
MON 810 is resistant to the corn borer, a moth whose caterpillars damage maize plantings, reducing yields.
Monsanto has stressed its GMO maize has been approved as safe for cultivation by both EU and German food safety agencies.
(Reporting by Michael Hogan; Editing by Jason Neely)