Reuters Alertnet
November 23, 2005


By Jeremy Smith

BRUSSELS, Nov 23 (Reuters) -- Denmark became the first European Union
country on Wednesday to win EU permission to compensate farmers who
have detected genetically modified (GMO) material in traditional or
organic crops, the EU executive said.

Denmark's parliament last year approved a tough law on GMO co-
existence, EU jargon for how farmers should separate the three farming
types -- GMO, organic and conventional/traditional -- and minimise

It was the first EU state to pass such a law, which was steered
through parliament by Mariann Fischer Boel, then Danish agriculture
minister but now EU agriculture commissioner.

"This is the first case where the (European) Commission has authorised
such state aid," the Commission said in a statement. Officials said
the amount concerned was a little less than one million euros ($1.18

"The admixture of conventional crops with GM material may cause
economic losses to the farmer with conventional crops if his products
have to be labelled as containing GM material and he gets a lower
price for them," it said.

Danish authorities will first pay out the compensation, and then
recover the amount paid from the farmer from whose fields the GMO
material has spread.

In line with EU laws on GMO traceability and labelling, compensation
will only be granted to farmers if the presence of GMO material
exceeds 0.9 percent.

This must also be limited to the price difference between the market
price of a crop that has to be labelled as containing GMO material and
a crop for which no such labelling is required.

Denmark's law obliges farmers planning to grow GMO crops to pay a fee,
per sown hectare, into a fund that would compensate conventional
farmers whose crops might become contaminated.

The idea is to replace the compensation fund, due to run for five
years, by private insurance when it becomes available.

GMO farmers in Denmark must also inform neighbouring farmers of their
plans and ensure mandatory separation distances. But they only have to
pay out compensation if the rules are broken.

Environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth (FoE) praised the
Commission's approval of Danish state aid but said the law, one of the
EU's strictest on coexistence, did not go far enough.

"We welcome the fact that the Commission has approved measures to
ensure that organic and conventional farmers will not have to foot the
bill for any GMO contamination in Denmark," FoE's GMO Campaigner Clare
Oxborrow told Reuters.

"However, the new Danish law does not go far enough to prevent this
contamination occurring in the first place," she said. "Biotech
companies must be held strictly liable for any damage their products

Biotechnology remains an extremely controversial area for the EU, even
after it lifted its unofficial ban in May 2004 on authorising new GMOs
by approving a modified sweet maize type to be sold in cans for human

For many EU countries, especially anti-GMO diehards such as Austria,
Greece and Luxembourg, it is essential to clarify the issue of
coexistence -- but with EU-wide, not national, laws.

Fischer Boel has often said she will look into an EU-wide law and
indicated this may be proposed after an EU conference on coexistence
scheduled to be held in Vienna in April.