Environment News Service
November 29, 2004


BERLIN, Germany, November 29, 2004 (ENS) -- The lower house of the
German Parliament has approved a new law that protects consumers and
farmers against the risks of genetically modified (GM) foods and
crops. Led by the Social Democratic and Green parties, the legislators
adopted a measure based on the principle that growers of transgenic
crops are financially liable for economic damage caused if their crops
contaminate organic or conventionally grown products.

The new law, passed on Friday [Nov. 26, 2004], provides that when
organic or conventional farmers cannot sell their products due to the
presence of GM material, the neighboring farmers growing GM crops are

The measure now must pass the upper house of parliament. The
parliamentary procedure is likely to be completed by the end of 2004,
the German Agriculture Ministry said.

Growers of genetically modified crops have an obligation to take
precautionary action to prevent "material negative effects" of of
their crops, in particular compliance with "good farming practice" in
the cultivation of GM crops, the law provides.

A "material negative effect" arises, the law provides, if:

** products cannot be placed on the market because of cross-
contamination with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This
situation may arise where owing to cross-contamination with GMOs
released, for example, in a field trial, a neighboring farmer can no
longer market his products because they contain traces of GMOs that
have not been authorized to be placed on the market.

** owing to cross-contamination with GMOs a neighboring farmer is
obliged to label his produce as "genetically modified," or

** owing to the presence of GMOs, a neighboring farmer is no longer
able to label his produce as "organic" or as produced "without genetic
modification" within the meaning of German legislation.

Under European Union legislation, all food and feed containing,
consisting of or produced from GMOs must be labeled "genetically
modified." If the content of genetically modified material amounts to
less than 0.9 percent of the relevant ingredient, labeling is not
mandatory if the presence of the material is unintended or technically
unavoidable. If it is not clear which farmer has caused the
contamination, the principle of joint liability of all neighboring GMO
farmers will apply. That means a farmer who has sustained damage will
be free to decide which neighbor to claim compensation from.

A register with precise information about where GM crops are intended
to be released will be publicly available. The site register will let
farmers farmers know exactly where in their neighbourhoods GM crops
are being cultivated.

The law limits the area where genetically modified plants can be grown
in Germany.

Farmers planting GM seeds will be required to adhere to strict
regulations, including the requirement that a minimum distance be kept
from non-GM fields. They must take steps to prevent the spread of
pollen from GM plants.

"In the interest of farmers and consumers, we do not want genetically
altered foods to sneak uncontrolled and initially unnoticed onto our
grocery shelves," said Herta Däubler-Gmelin, a parliamentarian from
the SPD.

Conservative opposition politicians and agricultural interests argue
that the restrictions will make it difficult for any farmers to grow
genetically modified crops.

Friends of the Earth says the law's provisions will give GM farmers
and GM operators a strong incentive not to contaminate neighboring
fields, helping to ensure the freedom of choice for the majority of
consumers in Germany and the European Union who do not want to eat GM

Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth Europe said, "This law is good
news for hundreds of millions of Europeans who do not wish to
participate in the biggest biological experiment of our time and who
want to eat food that is GM free. This law should now be the benchmark
for similar legislation in other EU member states."

There are loopholes in the law, including the fact that it does not
really cover damage to the environment as a result of GM crops. The
protection that the law offers for ecologically sensitive zones is
restricted to Natura 2000 areas, which only form 2.5 percent of the
surface of Germany.

Friends of the Earth is concerned that the European Commission might
want to overrule the German law by taking Germany to the European
Court of Justice. In a document from July 2004 leaked to the
organization, the Commission hinted that it might consider this type
of action.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005.