* German coalition undecided on GMO policy
* Upcoming EU meeting may not be able to make decision
* Large number of states still expected to oppose
By Michael Hogan and Stephen Brown
HAMBURG/BERLIN, Feb 5 Germany intends to abstain
in a European Union vote on the cultivation of a new type of
genetically modified maize, a government spokesman said on
Some German opposition politicians said an abstention could
lead to the European Commission giving a green light for the
maize to be farmed, but diplomats in Brussels said Germany's
move might not be enough to ensure EU approval.
The vote covers an insect-resistant maize, known as Pioneer
1507, developed jointly by DuPont and Dow Chemical
. If approved, it would end Monsanto's current
monopoly in Europe's small market for GMO crops.
The EU has only ever approved two other GMO crops for
commercial cultivation, a maize type and a potato, but the
potato was later blocked by a court.
In November, the Commission, the EU executive, proposed that
governments should approve the new maize type and a vote is
expected on Tuesday next week.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said: "The
German government has agreed to abstain ... It is normal
procedure to abstain on a dossier where there are different
opinions within the government on the matter."
EU diplomats expect the meeting of EU ministers to fail to
reach a definitive agreement. Under the EU's decision-making
process, a deadlock would allow the executive Commission to then
make a final decision.
Some have said this could lead to the Commission
unilaterally approving the maize but EU diplomats said it was
very unclear what the Commission would do because even if the
vote on Tuesday is inconclusive in strict legal terms, many
member states are expected to oppose approval.
"If from a political point of view, a large number of member
states are opposed, on that basis, the Commission would have to
reflect," one diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
"The abstention ... by the federal government opens the way
for approval of the genetically modified maize type 1507 in the
European Union," said Alexander Bonde, the opposition Green
Party's state consumer protection minister in the south German
Baden-Wuerttemberg state government.
Germany's grand coalition government is still developing its
policy on the cultivation of GMO crops, German agriculture
minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said on Jan. 16.
Germany's stance is a blow for France which opposes the GMO
and lobbied Germany heavily on the issue, notably during a visit
of the German farm minister to Paris in early January.
"We take note of the German decision," a French farm
ministry official said. "This does not question France's
position which clearly remains to keep a ban on genetically
France on Wednesday launched an attempt to restore a ban on
genetically modified (GMO) maize annulled by its top court to
avoid sowings this spring.
Britain's farm minister has called for a yes vote for
cultivation of the maize type.
Environmentalists noted that the European Food Safety
Authority has released a number of scientific opinions
highlighting the impact of a toxin released by 1507.
"The approval of this crop would be utterly irresponsible.
The EU's own safety testing has shown that it is harmful to
butterflies and moths and that there are still significant gaps
in safety testing," Mark Breddy, spokesman at Greenpeace in