GERMANY: Health minister bans variety of GM maize

Environmentalists have hailed the decision by Germany's Health Minister to ban Novartis Bt maize on grounds that it threatens the environment.

“We were surprised. Germany has not always been seen as the most cautious of the EU member states on this issue,” Gill Lacroix of Friends of the Earth (FoE) Europe told edie.

Andrea Fischer has banned Bt 176, a genetically-modified strain of maize marketed by Novartis, that has already been banned by Austria and Luxembourg. The two latter countries introduced their bans shortly after the European Commission approved the variety at the end of 1996. “The interesting thing is that the EC has never taken action against either country concerning these bans,” says FoE’s Lacroix.

According to Lacroix, this strain of Bt maize threatens the environment and human health in several ways. For a start, a study has shown Bt maize harms Monarch butterflies, while other research has shown that it harms populations of ‘beneficial insects’ including lacewings.

Another area of concern is the allegation that the Bt toxin – the element that makes the maize resistant to insects and the herbicide glufosinate ammonium – accumulates in soil. “We could see abnormal build-up of Bt in the soil and we don’t know what damage that could have to soil eco-systems,” says Lacroix.

The final risk associated with the Novartis brand of Bt maize involves its antibiotic marker. Such markers are used by scientists developing GM crops to track whether the genetic modifications they are inserting have been successfully received, but a side effect of the process is to make Bt maize resistant to the antibiotic Ampicillin. “The British Medical Association and the Pasteur Institute, as well as other prestigious medical organisations, have said they don’t want antibiotic markers used,” says Lacroix. It is common knowledge that the medical community is deeply concerned about human and animal resistance to antibiotics (see related story), and antibiotic markers in GM crops represents, according to FoE, an overt risk to human health. “Ampicillin is still widely used in human and veterinary medicine and so human and animal resistance to ampicillin is a huge concern,” says Lacroix.

“We really welcome this attitude on the part of the German Government,” says Lacroix, who believes it offers the EC a perfect opportunity to reconsider its approval of the crop. FoE would also like to see a Monsanto Bt maize variety banned. “It’s not exactly the same as the Novartis version – it doesn’t have the antibiotic marker – but it is a Bt maize,” says Lacroix.

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