German government stops GM crop talks

BSE crisis, arrival of Green agriculture minister, leads to eleventh hour suspension

The German government has unexpectedly and without warning suspended talks with biotechnology firms aimed at rolling out a three-year programme of monitored field testing of genetically modified (GM) crops. The industry had been expecting to cement a deal yesterday, which would have launched controlled test plantings of GM maize over hundreds of hectares from April. Some firms might now go ahead anyway, according to an industry source.

Suspension of the negotiations follows a period of political turmoil over the cattle disease BSE, which has sparked two ministerial resignations, the arrival of a Green agriculture minister and a radical shift towards "greener" farm policies (ENDS Daily 19 January). "The BSE problem has led society to rethink the principles and conditions that lie behind food production," the government said this week, in a letter informing biotechnology firms that the talks were off.

Agriculture minister Renate Künast has subsequently stressed that new talks would be launched after the government had reconsidered its position. But the industry has been left deeply disappointed by their abrupt end.

The negotiations had two aims, the first being to agree a protocol for three-years of controlled and monitored test cultivation of up to a dozen varieties of GM maize containing any of three genetic "events" approved under the EU's 1990 "deliberate release" directive. The second was to agree the ground rules for a broad public debate on what could constitute "responsible" use of GM techniques in agriculture.

Director of the German Association of Biotechnology Industries (DIB), Jens Katzek, stressed that biotechnology firms had supported the negotiations, but added that there was now "no programme and so no self-limitation necessary". It was most unlikely that a new deal could be struck before time ran out for spring planting of GM maize. Some firms were therefore likely to proceed without an agreement, Dr Katzek told ENDS Daily.

Follow Up:
German chancellor's office, tel: +49 30 40000; DIB, tel: +49 69 25 56 16 44.

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