The new law introduced rules regarding the sowing of Monsanto's pest-resistant maize MON180 for use as animal feed and its proximity to conventional crops. Cross-contamination is one of the main concerns regarding GM crops because the long-term health effects of GM on humans are not known. It is therefore recommended that the distance between GM and non-GM crops should be 50 metres, which is twice that required for coexistence of conventional crops. Germany has set the distance between GM crops and their equivalent conventional crops as 150 metres, and at 300 metres for organic crops. However it has also introduced an alternative as, while this was not a problem for large farms, it meant smaller farms, mainly in the west of Germany, could not adopt GM maize. Conventional farmers can enter into a contractual agreement with neighbouring GM farmers, permitting them to grow their crops without the 150m boundary. Although this means the conventional farmers may have to label their products as GM, Ricardo Gent, managing director of the German Association of Biotechnology Industries, told FoodNavigator.com he thinks farmers will still enter into such an agreement. Restrictions remain However, although he welcomes the new law, he said that criticism remain as it does not go far enough. A public register in Germany shows the exact location of every farm cultivating GM crops, meaning environmental activists can find them and destroy the crops. "We have had many extremist groups destroying GM crop trials in Germany," said Gent. "Because the government failed to change the legislation, refusing to only put the region on the register and only allowing farmers and scientists to discover the exact location, we can expect field destruction to continue this year." There is also the continued possibility of GM research being stifled. Because of liability regulations, concern about conducting field trials remains amongst university researchers, as they would not be able to foot the bill should neighbouring fields become contaminated. European GM situation Last year, over 110,000 hectares of biotech crops were harvested in seven EU member states, compared to 62,000 hectares in 2006. This represents a 77 per cent increase. At the moment, the only type of GM crop grown in the EU is maize, which was approved in 1998. It is not cultivated for human consumption but for animal feed. Austria enforced a ban on the import and processing of Monsanto's MON810 and Bayer's T25 maize in June 1999. The Commission has been debating whether to force the country to lift its restrictions since 2005, as Austria has never produced the necessary scientific evidence to contest the positive assessment of the products by Europe's food safety authorities. France has complicated the matter when it chose to extend its temporary ban on the cultivation of MON810, applying the same EU measure by arguing the costs to health posed by GM crops. The temporary ban had been put in place by President Sarkozy last October as part of plans to make France greener. Earlier this month, the European Commission was given yet more time to bring member states in compliance with trade obligations on GM crops after failing to meet Friday's deadline, the same day France extended its GM ban.
New legislation passed in Germany on Friday has paved the way for increased biotech innovation and easier cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops.