[DE] Government coalition fights over Gene Technology Act

After intense discussions over amendments to the Gene Technology Act, a draft of key points has become public. The draft largely settles differences between Minister of Agriculture, Horst Seehofer, and Minister of Research, Anette Schavan (both CDU). However, some aspects remain contentious, and the government coalition partner, SPD, has announced opposition to Seehofer's plans.

In their coalition agreement, CDU/CSU and SPD agreed "to support research and application“ of genetic engineering by amending the Gene Technology Act correspondingly. According to media reports, a document has been drafted which details the key points.

The draft would facilitate field trials for research purposes. Conventional harvests containing traces of GMOs from scientific field trials would be able to be used commercially, except for feed or food. Compensation for financial losses due to admixing with GMOs from field trials would only be available to the direct neighbours of trial sites.

In relation to co-existence, some minor modifications of liability regulations are planned. The amendment would state more precisely that compensation only be required where the admixture with approved GMOs has exceeded the labelling threshold of 0.9 percent. In cases in which no fault can be related to the GM farmer, Seehofer hopes that compensation will be made available from a voluntary scheme established by the seed industry.

The register of GM crop plantings will become less detailed: currently, it lists all land parcels (Flurstück) on which GM crops are cultivated commercially. After the amendment, only the relevant parish (Gemarkung) would be stated. Nevertheless, farmers intending to grow GMOs are required to inform their neighbours.

Isolation distances between GM and non-GM crops are still open for discussion. Reflecting the diverging opinions gathered in an expert hearing, Seehofer requests a distance of 150 metres for maize, while Schavan considers 50 meters to be sufficient. Ultimately, it is likely that the intended use of the neighbouring conventional crop (food, feed, biomass) may determine the isolation distance.

The government coalition partner, SPD, and opposition parties criticised the draft. The SPD disagreed especially with the changes to liability regulations, and the Greens called for isolation distances exceeding 150 metres .

Despite criticism, Minister Seehofer hopes that the amendment will be passed by the federal cabinet in December – even though it is unlikely that the amendment will be enacted prior to the 2007 cultivation season.


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