Denmark to approve genetically modified beet

Svend Auken defends decision to give marketing approval for herbicide resistant beet

Despite protests from political parties and environmental groups, Danish environment minister Svend Auken yesterday confirmed his intention to give marketing approval to a genetically modified beet developed for animal feed. It the European Commission and other EU countries concur, the beet will get marketing approval across the EU.

Developed by Monsanto, the beet is resistant to Round Up, a herbicide also produced by the multinational company. Left-wing parties and environmental groups are opposed to the product, citing environmental and health risks.

Yesterday, the minister defended his position at a meeting with parliamentarians. He said that assessments by various organisations, including the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Forest and Nature Agency had not found the beet to be detrimental to the environment or to health. Long-term evidence of safety was lacking, he admitted, but existing evidence suggested the product was safe. "There is just one thing for me to do," he told the group. "To say yes."

The parliamentarians asked Mr Auken to consider their concerns before notifying the European Commission officially of approval. He consented, pushing back his report to 23 September. But, the minister is unlikely to change his position, a top environment ministry told ENDS Daily.

Industry lobbyists were pleased with the meeting's outcome. "This has been the hardest test ever on this new food technology. We are on safe ground," said Peter Skov of the Confederation of Danish Industries.

But environmental groups maintain that the EPA assessment is too narrow, ignoring broader implications for herbicide use. "Herbicide resistant crops make herbicide resistant weeds," said Henning Mørk Jørgensen of the Danish Society for Nature Conservation. "Industry [is] working on a variety of crops resistant to Round Up and other [herbicides]."

"This is only one of many crops resistant to Round Up," confirmed Jesper Toft of NOAH Friends of the Earth. "If you look at all the crops being made resistant, there will be a...major [increase in] use of Roundup. Nature will create its own resistance to Round Up, some people say within three years. If agriculture is bound to herbicides as the strategy for solving weed problems, there [will be] no market for environmentally sound ways of controlling weeds."

The Social Liberal party, which plays a central role in Danish environmental issues, has joined two other left-wing parties in appealing to Auken change his mind. "It's reasonable to use new technology to produce stronger plants, but not to make these chemical resistant beets," Elsebeth Nielsen told ENDS Daily. "The principle should be that we're not going to use pesticides and herbicides in the future. Round Up is not an environmentally friendly chemical. The consequence is that we come to spray the whole of Denmark and Europe with it at some point."

Follow Up:
Danish environment ministry, tel: +45 33 92 76 00; Confederation of Danish Industries, tel: +45 33 77 33 77; Danish Society for Nature Conservation, tel: +45 33 32 20 21; Friends of the Earth Denmark, tel: +45 35 36 12 12.

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