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Germany to ban cultivation of Monsanto GMO maize

  Germany will ban cultivation and sale of genetically modified (GMO) maize, Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said on Tuesday.

The ban affects US biotech company Monsanto’s MON 810 maize which may no longer be sown for this summer’s harvest, Aigner told a news conference. MON 810 maize is the only GM crop approved by the EU for commercial use.

“I have come to the conclusion that there is a justifiable reason to believe that genetically modified maize of the type MON 810 presents a danger to the environment,” Aigner said. The decision to ban was based on scientific factors and was not a political decision, Aigner said. It was an individual case and not a fundamental decision against GMO crops, she added. Her ministry would now prepare a report into Germany’s strategy on GMO crops.

Aigner stressed that five other European Union countries have banned GMO maize cultivation in the face of EU approvals. Monsanto declined immediate comment.

Aigner, who took office in October 2008, said previously she would review approval for cultivation of GMO maize in Germany before this year’s sowing took place in late April. Monsanto gave German authorities a report on compliance with cultivation rules at the end of March. German authorities had given Aigner differing assessments of the report, the minister said. But the Environment Ministry also believed GMOs presented a threat to the environment.

EU REACTION

The EU Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, on Tuesday warned it would examine the German decision. “The Commission will analyze the ban by Germany with the adequate scientific information support and the Commission will decide on the most appropriate follow-up toward this situation,” Commission spokeswoman Nathalie Charbonneau told a regular briefing.

The Commission has attempted without success to get France, Austria and Hungary to lift their GMO bans. The south German state of Bavaria welcomed the decision and now planned to become a GMO-free zone, Bavarian state Environment Minister Markus Soeder on German television.

Aigner’s decision was welcomed by German environmentalist association BUND. “The suspicions that genetic maize damages nature and animals are so widespread that a ban is absolutely necessary,” BUND chairman Hubert Weiger said.

Environmental group Greenpeace called on Aigner to work inside the EU to stop further approvals of GMO maize. A series of scientific studies had shown that GMO maize was dangerous to the environment, Greenpeace spokeswoman Stephanie Toewe said.

German farmers have registered intentions to cultivate some 3,600 hectares of maize for the 2009 harvest, up from 3,200 hectares in 2008. But the total is an insignificant part of Germany’s annual maize cultivation of around 1.8 to 2.0 million hectares.

German farmers’ association DBV did not support or criticize the decision in a short statement, saying it expected the decision to have been made according to scientific principles. “As in the public there is a deep divide between those who favor and oppose (GMO crops)”, the DBV said. (Reuters)