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Germany?s Minister for Consumer Rights and Agriculture, Renate Kuenast, is
facing allegations that she used her political position to put a stop to at
least two research projects that were studying genetically modified (GM)
crops The Scientist is reporting, March 2005 by Robert Derham, Checkbiotech
Kuenast is well known in Germany for taking an ?all or nothing? approach
at stopping the progression of genetically modified organisms of any kind in
Germany. She belongs to Germany?s Green Party, who openly works with
environmental groups and large organic farming associations to keep Germany?
s doors shut to genetically enhanced products.
The recent allegations cast yet another shadow over the coalition government
of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Schroeder has openly praised the potential
of biotechnology and called for more progress in the area of genetic
Yet, Kuenast?s Green Party is a part of the coalition government, headed by
Schroeder?s Social Democratic Party, and echoes anything but the contrary to
Allegations regarding the recent scandal first arose back in February, when
a German monthly newsletter called Laborjournal reported that Kuenast?s
office had sent letters to at least two researchers, requesting them to stop
their research projects and to not make and public comments regarding them
The researchers caught in the political web are Joachim Schiemann, from the
Federal Research Institute for Agriculture and Forestry, and Reinhard
Toepfer at the Federal Research Institute for Breeding of Cultivated Plants
Their research involved new methods that would lay to rest one of the
reservations that opponents?the use of antibiotic resistance markers. Dr.
Schiemann and Toepfer were working on methods that would eliminate these
markers after a new gene had been added.
Antibiotic markers are a part of group of tools called selective markers
that help scientist identify if a gene of interest was correctly inserted
into the target organism. These markers provide the target organism with a
built-in resistance to agents that would normally lead to their death, thus
allowing the researchers to tell if a new gene had been correctly inserted.
Many opponents have raised the concern that these selective markers could be
transferred to other organism. Thus, the research of Dr. Schiemann and
Toepfer was aimed at removing these concerns, making genetically modified
crops all the more safer.
The problem that scientist such as Drs. Schiemann and Toepfer have, is that
they are part of a German research program funded directly from the
government. Although, in the institute?s 13 year history, a similar case has
never arisen, scientists in similar institutes are not required to compete
for grants and publications. Their funding and studies are dictated
primarily by government boards.
In comments provided to The Scientist, Jörg Hinrich Hacker, vice president
of the German Research Society, Künast's actions reflected the Green Party's
political position on genetically modified crops. "They do not want this
technology as a whole," Hacker said. "Any research eliminating the risk
would destroy their argument."
"Renate Künast prevents department institutes from entering into scientific
competition," said Hacker to The Scientist. "The policies of the Green Party
on green biotechnology are a handicap for science. They are hostile to
innovation and research."
Kuenast will now face a governmental inquisition that will look into the
accusations. Kuenast and the organisations that funded her political career
have always questioned the safety of transgenic crops, and have repeatedly
requested that more research be carried out to assess the safety of such
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