According to Mr Auken, next year will be used as a "breathing space" in which to find answers to questions about the risks and benefits of GM crops. Denmark's approach echoes a recent UK move which immediately caught the minister's interest (ENDS Daily 30 October).
The first GM crop due for commercialisation in Denmark is a herbicide-resistant sugar beet designed for use as animal feed. Its developers are Danish firms DLF Trifolium and Danisco, which are both party to the new agreement, together with US biotechnology giant Monsanto.
The companies will be required to demonstrate environmental benefits they are claiming for the variety, in particular reduced pesticide use. They will also assess effects on biodiversity and other environment and health factors. They will also have to make "open house" arrangements for the public to visit the sites and learn about the risks and benefits of the crop.
In addition, the organisations will be expected to liaise with consumer and environmental groups, and researchers and authorities in drawing up a code of good practice for sound and responsible introduction of GM crops.
Environmental groups are sceptical. Greenpeace Denmark said today that it was "a minor step" towards meeting public concern about biotechnology, arguing that the companies had not had plans for commercial plantings in 1999 anyway. Its director Jan Soenderdaad told ENDS Daily that the planned public dialogue avoided the main issue. "What is planned is a technical discussion about safety of GM crops, not the crucial discussion about whether we should have them at all."
An official at the Danish Environmental Protection Agency agreed that the premise for its plans was that GM crops would eventually get the go-ahead to be grown on a commercial scale in Denmark. But, she said, "things can change depending on the discussions that take place next year."
She accepted that there had been no plans for commercial planting in 1999, but she said industry organisations had not entered into the agreement lightly. They were concerned that it might be perceived as a "moratorium" that would be politically difficult to reverse.
Danish environment ministry, +45 33 92 76 00.
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