Germany has banned the cultivation of GM corn,
claiming that MON 810 is dangerous for the environment. But that
argument might not stand up in court and Berlin could face fines
totalling millions of euros if American multinational Monsanto decides
to challenge the prohibition on its seed.
The sowing season may be just around the corner, but this year
German farmers will not be planting gentically modified crops: German
Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner announced Tuesday she was banning the
cultivation of GM corn in Germany.
Under the new regulations, the cultivation of MON 810, a GM corn produced by the
American biotech giant Monsanto,
will be prohibited in Germany, as will the sale of its seed. Aigner
told reporters Tuesday she had legitimate reasons to believe that MON
810 posed "a danger to the environment," a position which she said the
Environment Ministry also supported. In taking the step, Aigner is
taking advantage of a clause in EU law which allows individual
countries to impose such bans.
"Contrary to assertions stating otherwise, my decision is not politically motivated," Aigner said, referring to
reports that she had come under pressure to impose a ban
from within her party, the conservative Bavaria-based Christian Social
Union. She stressed that the ban should be understood as an "individual
case" and not as a statement of principle regarding future policy
relating to genetic engineering.
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) both welcomed the
ban. Greenpeace's genetic engineering expert, Stephanie Töwe, said the
decision was long overdue, explaining that numerous scientific studies
demonstrated that GM corn was a danger to the environment.
However the ban could prove costly for the German government.
Experts in Aigner's ministry recently told SPIEGEL that it will be hard
to prove conclusively that MON 810 damages the environment, which could
enable Monsanto to win a court case opposing the ban and potentially
expose the government to €6-7 million ($7.9-9.2 million) in damages.
Monsanto said Tuesday that it would look into the question of whether
it would take legal proceedings as quickly as possible. Andreas
Thierfelder, spokesman for Monsanto Germany, said the matter was very
urgent as the planting season was just about to start.
Aigner has recently come under pressure from Bavaria to ban GM corn.
Bavaria's Environment Minister Markus Söder wants to turn Germany into
a "GM food-free zone." Environmental groups have long called for a ban
on GM crops in Germany, arguing that they pose a danger to plants and
However, supporters of genetic engineering argue that a ban could
prompt research companies and institutes to pull up stakes and leave
Germany. Wolfgang Herrmann, president of Munich's Technical University,
has said that a prohibition risks precipitating "an exodus of
The issue has exposed a split between Bavaria's CSU and its larger
sister party, Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. Katherina
Reiche, deputy chairwoman of the CDU/CSU's parliamentary group, has
complained of the "CSU's irresponsible, cheap propaganda," claiming
that it could harm German industry. She argued that anti-GM sentiment
was one reason a subsidiary of the German chemical giant Bayer decided
to moved its facilities for genetic engineering from Potsdam, near
Berlin, to Belgium.
MON 810 was approved for cultivation in Europe by the European Union
in 1998 and is currently the only GM crop which can be grown in
Germany. The plant produces a toxin to fight off a certain pest, the
voracious larvae of the corn borer moth. The crop was due to be planted
this year on a total area of around 3,600 hectares (8,896 acres) in
Germany. The cultivation of MON 810 is already banned in five other EU
member states, namely Austria, Hungary, Greece, France and Luxembourg.