The news Tuesday that Germany was joining five other European Union countries in banning the cultivation of genetically modified corn met with mixed reactions. Environmentalists were delighted, while supporters of GM foods warned it could lead to an exodus of research efforts from the country.
German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner told reporters she had legitimate reasons to believe that MON 810, a GM corn produced by the American biotech giant Monsanto, posed "a danger to the environment," a position which she said the Environment Ministry also supported. In taking the step, Aigner is taking advantage of a clause in EU law which allows individual countries to impose such bans.
German media commentators have broadly welcomed the decision, although they say political factors may well have played a part. Aigner is a member of the conservative Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, and the CSU is keen to tap popular opposition to genetically modified crops in the heavily agricultural Alpine region in the run-up to September's German general election.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The ban is a severe defeat for industry and research. Agriculture Minister Aigner is being accused of having taken a purely political decision. There are no serious studies that prove the corn poses a danger, its supporters say. But anyone who uses that argument merely proves that they haven't understood the problem. As long as the crop's usefulness hasn't been established, there is no reason to accept the risks involved in farming it. Aigner had to issue a ban. Anything else would have been a gigantic open-air experiment with unforeseeable consequences."
The left-wing Frankfurter Rundschau writes:
"Genetically modified corn is a risk to our environment, is totally superfluous in farming, represents industrial agriculture, causes pointless costs to food production in Germany and can even ruin beekeepers. All this has been discussed at length. The fact that this has finally led to an official ban is to be welcomed."
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"Progress has become a dirty word, even with the Social Democrats who once defined themselves as a party of progress. Apart from a meek FDP (eds. note: the opposition liberal Free Democrats), no one dares to argue in favor of technical innovation if the activists shout 'fear' loud enough. Just think of all the innovations that have been blown up into bugaboos in recent years -- mobile phones, PET bottles, PVC window frames, computers, the Internet, the Transrapid magnetic-levitation train, medical gene technology and much else. But in the case of green gene technology, the fearmongers are able to score their biggest triumph since the phase-out of nuclear power.
"They persuaded people that the food we currently eat is completely natural -- and that nature is always a good thing. But 'conventional' agriculture involves exposing seeds to radioactive rays or making it mutate with the help of poisons. There's nothing natural about these coarse and unfocussed methods. Genetic technology offers, for the first time, the possibility to precisely select a desired gene."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The fact that only water fleas and butterflies have been damaged doesn't disprove the warnings about unforeseeable effects. Who knows the extent to which humans may be affected in the long term by something that immediately kills off small creatures?
"Rejecting this type (of GM corn) isn't the pet project of peripheral social groups but is government policy in five EU countries."
The left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:
"Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner was right to ban the type of GM corn that originated in the US and has been approved in Europe for 11 years. Growing and selling MON 810 is irresponsible because no one can predict the risks to animals, other plants and not least human beings.
"The government did the right thing -- but for the wrong reasons, and very late. Countless questions regarding the impact and dangers were unanswered even when Brussels approved MON 810 despite existing doubts and when then-Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer permitted its use in Germany. Consumers and environmentalists protested at the time but were labeled enemies of progress.
"The new studies don't show any new risks -- they simply prove that the old warning about the risks was justified. It's a scandal that the subsequent ban was even necessary because the farming of genetically modified plants had been permitted without a thorough examination of all the possible dangers."