Germany Joins the European Mutiny Over Genetically Modified Crops

By Eliza Strickland | April 15, 2009 4:35 pm

cornIn another sign of Europe’s resistance to the genetically modified crops that have been widely accepted in the United States, Germany outlawed the cultivation of a genetically modified strain of corn produced by the U.S. company Monsanto. Germany joins five other countries — France, Austria, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg — that have banned the pest-resistant maize despite its approval under a legally-binding EU directive [Nature News].

The strain of corn, known as Mon810, is the only transgenic crop approved in the European Union. Kari Matalone, a spokeswoman for Monsanto, said the corn — which is engineered to resist pests — had been approved for cultivation in Europe more than a decade ago and that no ill effects had been detected since then. “We don’t really understand where this decision is coming from,” Ms. Matalone said [The New York Times]. Monsanto also said it’s considering legal action against Germany.

The move is largely symbolic, as German farmers were preparing to plant only 8,892 acres of the modified corn for this summer’s harvest. But German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner made clear that she doesn’t think a single Mon810 plant should take root in Germany’s fields. “I have come to the conclusion there are just reasons to assume that the genetically modified maize MON 810 represents a danger for the environment,” Aigner said. “Therefore, the cultivation of MON 810 is now banned in Germany.” The environment ministry had undertaken a “rigorous study to weigh the pros and cons,” she said [AFP].

Aigner didn’t specify whether the concerns about the corn relate to its effects on the environment or human health. Previously, environmentalists have questioned whether the pest-resistant corn could damage friendly insects, or whether the plants’ pollen could drift into fields of non-engineered corn, spreading the modified genes. But the European Union’s scientific assessment determined that any risk to the environment caused by Mon810 would be vanishingly small, a conclusion that is especially convincing because of the stringent safety precautions required by the European Commission’s tough approval process [Nature News].

Related Content:
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80beats: Europe Isn’t Ready for Meat and Milk from Cloned Animals
DISCOVER: The Great Gene Escape investigates whether altered genes can drift into adjacent fields
DISCOVER: Genetically Altered Corn tells how a corn not intended for humans got into the food supply

Image: flickr / Peter Blanchard

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    Boo Monsanto. Germany and the others have banned this crop because it is PATENTED. And Monsanto has been abusive trying to sue people for allegedly growing seeds produced by their patented crops. They have even threatened non-farmers in farm communities, just assuming everyone’s a farmer. Genes should not be patented, and especially strains of plants that are “genetically modified” because they have a gene from some other plant inserted in them. Even though no real work has been done other than gene transfer, they are allowed to patent that genome and go after those they claim have violated their patents (including getting their plants fertilized accidentally by Monsanto’s genegineered crops. Even if they are environmentally safe, Monsanto is economically dangerous.

  • Grant H

    “Monsanto also said it’s considering legal action against Germany.”
    What the..! How does that work? It’s none of Monsanto’s business what products a country decides to ban. “Considering legal action against Germany”? What a stupid thing to say.
    Is it the opinion within Monsanto that they are part of some all powerful empire?
    Imagine a world were corporations could actually use legal action to force governemts to accept their products dispite the wishes of the populous. They would cease to care about internal safety standards or quality control. It would be nightmarish.

  • Ryan


    Even though no real work has been done other than gene transfer

    Yeah, but gene transfer is real work. It usually takes teams of well paid genetisists years to achieve the desired result. Although, as you point the natural process of pollination makes enforcing this unpractical.

  • http://charleszigmund.com Charles Zigmund

    The problem is that Monsanto has bet its future on genetically modified seeds and on the doctrine of prohibiting farmers from planting any seeds that they themselves grow from Monsanto’s seeds. This would put a permanent end to the age-old right of farmers to produce their own seeds when they want to. And Monsanto wants to force ALL farmers to follow their rules, even farmers who did not plant Monsanto’s seeds but had material blown in from nearby fields, as if they were a dictator. It is an oppressive business model applied by a bullying monopolistic corporation with little regard for anything but its own profits. Bravo for the countries that are resisting it. It needs to be reined in just like Microsoft, and it was the Europeans that were the leaders in that also.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    Grant H :

    As I understand it, Monsanto believes it has the option of a lawsuit because the EU’s approval of the crop was supposed to be legally binding.

    And there’s another complication. According to the NY Times, the U.S., Canada, and Argentina “won a lawsuit at the World Trade Organization in 2006 obliging the European Union to ease remaining bans on the import and cultivation of genetically modified products.” That may have something to do with Monsanto’s threat of legal action.

  • Tom A

    Frankenfoods should be banned. We have no idea what the ultimate long term effects of these may be. Nature provides all we really need, we just need to be smarter and more efficient about how we produce it. On top of that plants are life and you legally aren’t supposed to patent life. Monsanto is a company that has a history of abusing nature and disregarding the consequences. The ‘additives’ they’ve put in animal feed have been linked to all sorts of nasty conditions…yet they still are allowed to operate..

  • http://discovermagazine.com John Cassady

    If their decision is about resisting this corporate patent then I say way to go.

  • Tobias Oberstein

    Let me add some aspects from a German perspective (that is, what I belive a vast majority of Germans feel):

    * this has nothing to do with Monsanto being a US company or opposing free trade … opposition in Germany would be the same (or likely even stronger) if it would be about a German company

    * patenting life is absurd and wrong and shows how broken the patent system / practice is, even in Europe. forcing farmers into the hands of a monopolist, denying them to produce their own seeds is criminal.

    * in a democracy, the power is with the people, not with globalized, trans-national corp. – we have to get them back down to earth .. economy/capitalism has to work _for_ the people, not as to an end in itself.

    * the risks of GM are “non-linear” and the pros are totally unclear. unless you are a Monsanto investor, the risk-reward ratio does not justify a rational pro decision

    * GM food has to be clearly marked as such, then the consumer has the choice – in Germany this will likely result in the product being just not bought.

    * It is not correct that Germany is forced to allow GM by EU law. There is an explicit exception. Anyway, this is all legal talk, which is irrelevant, because public opinion in Germany is so strongly and widely (>70%, accross all political lines) opposed, that any government trying to push that would get into big trouble. They would get toasted ..

  • James E

    If the ban is for financial reasons, then they have a right to banfight it in court if they think it is in the best interests of their farmerscountry.

    but

    ““I have come to the conclusion there are just reasons to assume that the genetically modified maize MON 810 represents a danger for the environment,” Aigner said. “Therefore, the cultivation of MON 810 is now banned in Germany.” The environment ministry had undertaken a “rigorous study to weigh the pros and cons,” she said [AFP]. ”

    The above statement is nothing but empty pseudo-science with no referenced backing or reason other than she has come to the CONCLUSION they there are JUST REASONS to ASSUME there is a danger. You can’t make a public statement like this while representing an entire country. It makes it sound like you are just deciding to ban this product biased on a gut feeling. You need to site published facts and real science, not just assumptions.

  • Frank V.

    When did corporations become evil? Everyone knows they are profit-driven, there’s nothing insidious about wanting to make corn that has a bigger yield and making sure know one steals your product. MON810 is Monsanto’s product. Just like Goodyear makes tires and DuPont makes Teflon. The fact that it’s “alive” makes no difference. Monsanto developed, patented, manufactured, and distributed MON810. They aren’t evil, they are profit driven, like all good companies.

  • Thomas Nofziger

    While leaders of governments and religious institutions around the world direct their citizen’s attention to the dangers of other governments and religious institutions, the real enemies of world peace and mutual prosperity–international banking cartels and unconscionable corporations like Monsanto–pull the strings “hinter den Kulissen”.

    The corporate state is the definition of economic fascism…. something Mussolini tried to establish during the early 1920′s, but failed. Such a corporate state is our present american reality, and I hope other countries will stand up to nefarious corporations like Monsanto now and in the future.

  • Amber Hughes

    I have looked into Monsanto’s policies. They consistently prosecute farmers for natural reproduction. Pollen is the male gamete and is carried by insects or wind to other plants of the same species, where it fertilizes the female egg. Read an ethical guideline, Monstanto! It is ethically wrong to hold the patent for something with reproductive capabilities, something living. Monsanto refuses to try to limit the reproductive capabilities of their seeds and then procedes to SUE the farmers for “stealing” their property. I would LOVE to see Monsanto employees standing out in the fields trying to stop the cross propagation between virgin strains and Monsanto strains. It’s impossible and absurd to try and stop nature much less put legal boundries on it. What will happen next? When we clone a human will they be the property of the company that created them?

  • http://TwoSistersArtandSoul Lisette Root

    I believe the human race is still viable thanks to the natural genetic diversity of our wonderful earth. When a specices becomes genetically limited by nature, it usually dies out over time. An organisam must be able to adapt to changing conditions. Genetic modification may interfere in ways we have not yet imagined or observed. I believe all countries as well as the entire world should encourage the use of heirloom seeds, and we should not rely on species that have not stood the tests of time. Time, is still a mystery, but when it comes to our food supply and survival of our species as well as other species we rely on, I would like to proceed cautiously.

  • Naja Lindberg

    It is nice to know that our judicial system believes in Monsanto. Maybe the next politician elected on corporate America’s dime will get those Germans straitened out.
    Monsanto: when you read this, know that it is coming from an angry and disenchanted midwesterner.

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