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Checkbiotech: Seven years lost for genetic engineering
Posted by: Prof. Dr. M. Raupp (IP Logged)
Date: September 15, 2005 07:16AM ; ;

In mid-July, Monsanto Germany saw no other option other than to go through
the courts. The German subsidiary of the US concern parent company filed
suit at the administration court in Hannover to finally force a decision
from the German Federal Cultivation Office on maize MON 810, September 2005
by S. Hofmann translated by Katharina Schoebi, Checkbiotech.

There have already been several years of tug-of-war surrounding the issue
of the genetically altered maize variety. MON 810 is equipped with a gene
that renders the maize resistant against the European corn borer, a dreaded

Already in 1999, the EU approved the maize variety. However, in Germany,
approval from the Federal Cultivation Office is also needed in order to
commercialize the seeds.

The US seed company Pioneer made a first attempt as a Monsanto licensee in
2002, but the Federal Cultivation Office has repeatedly delayed their
decision. At the end of 2004, Monsanto finally brought a MON 18-based hybrid
through the two year test procedure as well. A decision was first expected
in February 2005.

?And we were sure that our maize met the demands and would get the license,?
said Monsanto?s speaker Andreas Thierfelder. However, the decision on MON
810 was postponed, after the German Federal Ministry for Consumer
Protection, Food and Agriculture (BMVEL) objected, based upon genetic law

Subsequently, Monsanto contacted BMVEL and finally came to an agreement with
the government office on a solution to the problem. The representatives from
the ministry made assurances that no further legal concerns would be an
issue for Monsanto?s maize. In return, the seed company committed to
present ? no later than at the start of commercial cultivation ? a
monitoring-plan that closely oversees the maize crops. Everything seemed to
be again set for a decision.

However, at the end of May, a few days prior to the planned meeting with the
Federal Cultivation Office, another veto from Berlin arrived. The office was
instructed to postpone the decision based on the advice that the
EU-authorization only applies to maize as animal feed and not to seeds. In
discussions with the Ministry, Monsanto ? by its own account - tried another
time, even though it was futile, to clear up these concerns. In mid-July,
when the EU-commission finally clarified that the permission for MON810
corresponded to the application of seeds, as well, the company decided to

This episode is ? from the vantage point of researchers and industry
representatives ? a typical example of the destiny of green biotechnology in

Scarcely another research area in the past years has seen itself so
vigorously thwarted, delayed and constantly burdened with new barriers as
plant biotechnology. Industry representatives regard the red-green
government as seven lost years.

Dietmar Brauer, Director of the mid-sized seed company Northern German Plant
Breeding, talks about a really ?devastating? development. ?Wherever the
government established new rules, it has significantly exceeded the EU

From the vantage point of the seeds branch, there were some positive
developments. Particularly, the gene technology initiative that was promoted
by Federal Chancellor Schroeder promised some progress. The moratorium on
crop testing would have been superceded with a requirement for a three year
field trial for transgenic seeds. However in Berlin, under the effect of the
BSE-crisis, the plans were already put aside 6 months later. Then Renate
Kuenast, a Green party and vocal opponent of genetic engineering, took over
the leadership of the newly created Ministry of Consumer Protection and

Industry representatives regard as especially serious the fact that the
adjustment of the European release guidelines was first delayed for years,
and was then finally accepted in German Genetic Engineering law with a
really prohibitive liability rule. ?In the overall package, the legal
regulations are so prohibitive that it has made entry into several areas
rather impossible,? Ricardo Gent, director of the German Industry
Incorporation Biotechnology (BID), says.

For example, one serious hurdle is posed by the new German Genetic
Engineering Law, which established a form of joint, as well as independent
liability, for any varietly of genetically engineered seeds, regardless of
negligence. In addition, out-crossings of permitted outdoor tests are
classified as an unapproved use of genetically modified seeds ? which, from
the vantage point of the German Industry Incorporation Biotechnology,
implicates incalculable liability risks for research.

?As a consequence of such liability risks, the number of outdoor field tests
has declined by about two thirds since1999. Despite good basic research,
Germany is losing their international status in product development in the
area of green biotechnology,? DIB warns. ?Scientific outdoor field trials
tests would be increasingly restricted to crops such as potatoes, where no
out-crossing is possible.?

However, research also perceives itself as being continually slowed down by
the blockade politics of the Ministry of Consumer Protection and
Agriculture. A few months ago, the fact that minister Kuenast stopped a
project on research safety with the biological federal agency ? under the
control of to the BMVEL - caused for international concern.

A research group, led by professor Joachim Schiemann of Braunschweig, aimed
to optimize the safety of genetically engineered plants with the project and
successfully applied for federal grant money from the Federal Research
Ministry. However, they had to withdraw their application under pressure
from BMVEL.

Also on other occasions, researchers were apparently stopped. In autumn 2003
for example, the BMVEL stopped a trial with apple trees, whose release had
already been approved by the German Commission for Biological Safety.
NPZ-director Brauer refers to the publicly supported project Nanus 2000,
where rape seed was to have been enriched with a gene for the constitutional
fatty acid refiratol. When it came to the point where open field trials
would have been required, the BMVEL prohibited them.


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