WASHINGTON -- Germanyıs minister for health announced today the suspension of approval for Novartisı Bt 176 corn on the grounds that the action was necessary to protect consumers and defend precautionary health protection. According to Minister Andrea Fischer, who holds full responsibility for approving genetically modified organisms (GMO), the key factor in the decision is that Novartisı insect-killing Bt corn contains an antibiotic resistance gene. She also hinted at unresolved questions about detrimental effects on non-target species and dispersal of the Bt toxin in soil.
"We had to act now," explained Fischer, "as we learned that Novartis has applied for unrestricted approval of the seeds of these (corn) varieties. With the suspension of the approval for the release [of Bt] as GMO, such seed approvals are automatically stalled as well." Fischer confirmed that any planting of Novartis Bt corn is banned in Germany immediately. Fischer also said that she intended to open a new round of risk assessments of GMOs and invited all stakeholders to participate in this discussion.
"The German Ministerıs decision is a step in the right direction and is an important signal to industry, the public and the European Commission," said Benedikt Haerlin of Greenpeace. "We are confident that we will be able to prevent the planting of GE corn in the rest of the European Union. Nobody wants this GE corn in the fields, except Novartis. We appreciate that now another important member state of the EU has recognized that this corn is a threat to human health and the environment."
Fischer confirmed that the German government was applying Art.16 of EU Directive 90/220, which allows any member state to withdraw a GMO approval if it has concerns about possible health or environmental impacts of the GMOs. The suspension would last at least until there was a decision of the European Commission on Germanyıs objections.
Germany joins France, Luxemburg, Portugal and Austria in formally banning the planting of Novartis Bt corn. The corn was approved by the EU Commission in 1997 against massive protests held before the EU moratorium on GMO approvals came into effect in 1999.
In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency has been challenged in court for its pesticide registration of Bt corn. Greenpeace and a coalition of over 70 plaintiffs sued the EPA, charging the agency with the wanton destruction of the world's most important biological pesticide?Bt. Scientists warn that corn genetically engineered with the Bt pesticide in each of its cells could lead to insect resistance within 3 to 4 years.
Market rejection of Bt corn cost U.S. farmers more than $200 million in export revenue last year. A recent Reuters poll of 400 farmers predicted a 24 percent decline in the planting of Bt corn and a 26 percent decline in the planting of Bt cotton this year. Currently, Bt corn is grown on approximately 20 million acres in the U.S., and Bt cotton on about 7 million acres.
Mark Ritchie, President
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
2105 First Ave. South
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404 USA
612-870-3400 (phone) 612-870-4846 (fax)
cell phone 612-385-7921
Date: 18 Feb 2000