Green genetic engineering: full speed ahead?

The governing coalition allows controversial genetically modified corn and wants to demand the cultivation of genetically modified plants in other areas as well

The new government has been in office for less than a hundred days, and already genetic engineering advocates have reason to rejoice. Under consumer protection minister horst seehofer, the first three varieties of genetically modified corn were recently approved for unrestricted commercial cultivation. In addition, the "preferential treatment" of organic farming is to be reduced and liability rules for the cultivation of genetically modified plants (gm plants) are to be relaxed. The minister’s latest statements are a source of joy for the agricultural industry and genetic engineering multinationals. Representatives of organic farming, consumers and environmental protection groups are upset.

With red-green’s departure, there is an upswing in the agro-genetic engineering ie. The coalition agreement already struck a conciliatory note towards genetic engineering producers, users and researchers. Die grune gentechnik solle verantwortlich genutzt und gefordert werden:

The freedom of choice of farmers and consumers and the coexistence of different forms of farming must be guaranteed. Genetic engineering law should set the framework for the further development and use of genetic engineering in all areas of life and the economy. The eu directive on the release of genetically modified organisms will be implemented in the near future and the genetic engineering act will be amended. The regulations should be designed in such a way that they demand research and application in germany.

If organic farmers were already upset about this direction, the latest statements by minister horst seehofer are even more so. Via the media, the latter, in the spirit of the agribusiness, announced that the "preferential treatment" of organic farming should be eliminated. The achievements of conventional agriculture were also to be appreciated. The organic farming association bioland promptly countered:

It goes without saying that it is a shame when a minister of agriculture considers conventional farmers to be just as important as organic farmers. However, in the face of major environmental and economic challenges, it is not a question of ‘relationship ies’. With bogus debates about an alleged preference for organic farming, seehofer is engaging in the ‘organic vs. Conventional’ divide he accuses his predecessor of. Instead, according to bioland, it is seehofer’s task to ensure framework conditions that allow as many farms as possible to practice organic farming – in the interest of environmental and consumer protection. There has been no preference for organic farming in the past. In fact, the state’s demand structure disadvantages in particular those farms that rely on a more costly quality production.

If seehofer really wants to play a kind of divide-and-conquer game with the farmers, he will probably get into a lot of trouble. When it comes to the distribution of receivables, such a strategy may just work. In the matter of genetic engineering, however, the situation looks quite different again. Conventional and organic farmers often pull together here. For example, when it comes to fighting for gm-free feed.

True costs?

In some cases, forcing the cultivation of genetically modified crops could even cost conventional farmers more than organic farmers. This was shown in a study commissioned by the european commission (2002). The joint research centre (jrc) has modeled various scenarios for this purpose. It was shown, for example, that the cultivation of genetically modified canola was a major cost factor for organic farmers. Increased gm corn production, on the other hand, has not affected organic farmers to the same extent as conventional corn farmers due to high seed purity and preserved segregation practices, according to jrc scientists. Overall, the researchers found that coexistence in europe is feasible, but not for free. In other words: genetic engineering as a third tier of agriculture leads to higher costs.

This is already evident in the import of gm feeds. Commercial cultivation of gm varieties will further aggravate the cost problem. Because the careful separation of gm and conventional seeds, the permanent control by sampling, the expenses for coexistence and finally the separation of the flow of goods – all these are additional cost factors.

It is not by chance that insurance companies around the world block coverage of risks from genetic engineering. This is because contamination through outcrossing (pollen dispersal) and mixing is a "foreseeable, unavoidable risk" according to the insurers (statement by munchner ruck citing. According to simply gen:ial) and therefore not covered by liability insurance. An insurance solution for the liability ie, which is the goal of the coalition agreement, will therefore be difficult to achieve with the genetically modified varieties currently in use or approved in the eu.

The government has also been criticized by organic farmers and environmentalists for the december 14. December of three genetically modified corn varieties mon 810 , marketed by monsanto and pioneer, respectively. This controversial corn line (what does synthetic dna do to the blood??) pays to the so-called bt varieties, which produce toxins themselves and can thus cushion damage caused by certain insects. The approved gm corn from monsanto protects against the corn borer. This pest causes worldwide crop losses between 3 and 6 percent. Monocultures are particularly affected, as they are always more susceptible to insect pests than mixed crops due to the way they are cultivated.

Benefits of gm corn?

In germany, some farmers who work on soil that is difficult to plow under are expecting benefits from ge corn. Plowing under is considered the most efficient way to control corn borer. In the usa, however, with its huge corn fields, the bt varieties have brought only minimal increases in yield. For the u.S. Farmer, the use of the more expensive ge seed only pays off in years with very high pest infestations. In addition, u.S. Farmers are required to grow up to 40 percent conventional corn at the same time. The background to this unusually strict regulation by u.S. Standards: insects could very quickly become immune to the toxin produced by the gm plants. This unpleasant experience has already been made in some places by farmers experimenting with gm cotton.

For germany, the newly approved varieties could only be of interest to very, very few farmers at all. Monsanto and pioneer cannot expect mega-business from it. Could it be that the corporations, which pressed massively for an approval, are more interested in a psychological effect?? (monsanto is in a hurry)

Even greenpeace does not ame that genetic engineering plants will soon be growing on a large part of the approximately one and a half million hectares of coarse corn cultivation area in germany. Farmers are reluctant because they are aware of german consumers’ critical attitude toward green genetic engineering and shy away from the strict regulations of the genetic engineering law, according to christoph then of greenpeace. Much will also depend on whether the genetic engineering law is changed. If, in the spirit of the coalition agreement, there should be a relaxation of liability regulations and, as a consequence, coarse gm corn cultivation, there could, however, be problems for farmers who wanted to farm gm-free. For corn is considered a rather outcrossing crop.

Despite the love affair with green genetic engineering, both coalition partners promise that the taxpayer will not be burdened with costs for the liability fund. The consumers, who are in the majority against "genfood", were buried such cost truth probably on the entire line. Those who want to have gm varieties by hook or by crook should also bear all the costs incurred by conventional and organic farmers – and that would go far beyond the ie of contamination by pollen.

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