Published on
Spiegel Online (Germany)

EU Commission Fails in Push for Genetically Modified Corn


A crowd of Germans protests against genetically engineered corn. (DPA)

On Monday, EU environment ministers successfully blocked a move by the European Commission to force Austria and Hungary to lift bans on genetically modified corn. A German decision on the Monsanto product is expected soon, as well.

The European corn borer is a tiny, nocturnal moth. It likes to eat potatoes and sorghum, but -- as can be gathered from its name -- its food of choice is corn. There's only one kind of insecticide that is approved for fighting the flying scourge.

Under these circumstances, the agricultural industry would like to be able to use a genetically modified corn that is at least resistant to the insect's larvae. But this kind of modified corn has been deeply controversial for years. Environmentalists believe that genetically modified corn presents a danger to both eco-friendly agribusiness and moths.

On Monday, agriculture ministers from EU member states voted to reject a European Commission proposal that would have required Austria and Hungary to lift their bans on genetically modified corn seeds. Although the decision in Brussels applies specifically to the two countries, it is also likely to have implications for other member states, including Germany.

With the exception of Britain, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden, most EU environment ministers moved to back the two member states. The European Commission had been trying to force Austria and Hungary to lift their restrictions on a number of things, including the controversial genetically modified corn "MON 810" developed and marketed by the US biotech giant Monsanto.

News of the decision came from a text message provided by the government of the Czech Republic, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency

The German government is also currently considering whether it will lift its restriction on the MON 810 corn, which it imposed in 2007. As things stand, however, the position of the government is far from unified. Germany is led by a grand coalition government that includes the country's traditional political rivals -- the conservative Christian Democrats (along with their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union) and the center-left Social Democrats. However, the CDU and CSU are split on whether or not to lift the ban on Monsanto GM corn seeds. Education and Research Minister Annette Schavan of the CDU is opposed to the ban, but Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner of the CSU and Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel of the Social Democratic Party both support it.

According to a number of diplomats, German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a member of the SPD party, voted against forcing the countries to lift their restrictions. "I don't see why we should pursue the interests of a single American corporation and, in the process, upset the citizens of EU member states," Gabriel told reporters before the vote.

The issue of admitting genetically modified products into the EU agriculture industry has always been a highly contentious one. One reason for this is that a majority of the population in most member states is opposed to genetic engineering. In the EU council of ministers, comprised of the ministers and leaders of member states, it is rare for a sufficient majority to form either in support or opposition to proposals to admit the products into Europe. As a result, the decision is often left to the European Commission. These officials, in turn, often base their decisions on the scientific advice provided by EU food-safety officials, who have continued to express the view that genetically modified foods do not present a health danger.

Monsanto's MON 810 has been approved for use in the EU since 1998. Another type of genetically modified corn, Zea mays T25, developed by the German pharmaceuticals and chemicals giant Bayer, has previously been approved but has fallen out of use.

-- with wire services

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