Germany passed legislation this week that makes it easier for farmers to sow genetically altered corn. The move has aggravated green lobbies and consumer groups while Monsanto Co., which holds the patent for the corn seed in question, has complained that the regulation does not go far enough.
The new legislation outlines rules on sowing the pest-resistant corn seed known as MON180, currently the only genetically modified crop approved for commercial planting in the European Union. While it was officially legal in Germany prior to 2006, the previous Social Democrat-Green Party coalition government did not license the seed for sale. France has banned MON180 and in Germany around 160 districts have declared themselves GM-free zones.
German Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer said his decision to give the go-ahead for MON180 was to assist Germany’s biotechnology industry. However, Monsanto argues that the legislation fails to remove hurdles for farmers who wish to plant the crop. In particular, the corporation argues that the new ‘safety zone’ requirements, included in the legislation, go too far and will deter smallholders from sowing the corn.
Farmers wishing to sow MON180 are obliged to set a 150 meter ‘safety zone’, separating their plots from neighbors growing regular GM-free corn. This protection measure must be extended to 300 meters where GM crops are sown adjacent to organic farms.
At the same time, the government has developed a voluntary code on food labeling for GM-free products. Consumer and environment groups welcomed this initiative, while urging Seehofer to follow France’s example in banning MON180.
Spain and Portugal have around 100,000 hectares planted with MON180 corn, making them Monsanto’s biggest customers in the European Union. At this stage, German farmers intend to sow around 3,330 hectares of MON180 in 2008.