German farm minister steps down to re-enter local politics

HAMBURG, Sept 30 Mon Sep 30, 2013 10:51am EDT

HAMBURG, Sept 30 (Reuters) - German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner stepped down on Monday to return to local politics in her home state of Bavaria, her ministry said.

Aigner had said last year she would leave following a parliamentary election on Sept. 22, prompting speculation that she was eyeing the post of Bavarian prime minister should the incumbent, Horst Seehofer, step down.

Aigner's southern conservative party CSU has long held power in the state.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives achieved their best result in decades in the Sept. 22 election but must still find a coalition partner to secure a third term, a process which could last weeks.

Until a new government is formed, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich will also head the agriculture ministry, the ministry said in a statement.

Aigner was a little-known member of parliament with no previous ministerial experience when she took over the agriculture and consumer protection portfolio in 2008.

She had to juggle competing pressures as Germany generally supported a cut in European Union spending even as farmers demanded the government uphold their large EU subsidies.

Aigner gained a reputation as a steady hand when dealing with a series of food safety scandals that disrupted commodity markets.

She imposed tough new safety standards for animal feed manufacturers after dioxin was found in German feed in 2011, a move widely supported in the market to retain public confidence.

She also took a tough line against cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Germany but received praise from commodity traders when she supported imports of GMOs approved in the United States and South America to secure German supplies of soybeans for animal feed. (Reporting by Michael Hogan; editing by Tom Pfeiffer)