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German universities bow to public pressure over GM crops

Von: Old Codger (oldcodger@anyoldwhere.net) [Profil]
Datum: 15.05.2008 11:28
Message-ID: <cg0o2415s8d60714v4k026s2n9jedbbqrk@4ax.com>
Newsgroup: uk.rec.natural-history uk.rec.fishing.coarse uk.business.agriculture uk.rec.gardening uk.rec.birdwatching uk.environment.conservationtalk.politics.animals alt.animals.ethics.vegetarian
German universities bow to public pressure over GM crops
Plug is pulled on maize research.
http://tinyurl.com/4pgp4u
Quirin Schiermeier

Scientists have decried the decision by two German universities to
pull the plug on field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops,
calling it a âdisgracefulâ interference with scientists' freedom to
research.

âI am not happy at all with this decision,â says Stefan Hormuth,
president of the Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Hesse.
âUnfortunately, we were no longer able to deal with the massive
opposition from politicians and the general public. The university has
a reputation in the region that we cannot risk losing.â


Andreas Schier had to stop his field trials of GM maize.Last month,
the university announced that it would stop its planned cultivation of
insect-resistant GM maize in nearby Gross-Gerau after activists
occupied the 1,500-square-metre field. Another local field trial of GM
maize, in Rauischholzhausen, was also stopped because of massive
protests from the public and local politicians. Both trials had been
approved by the national consumer protection and food safety body
(BVL) and were to be conducted on behalf of Germany's authority for
agriculture variety and seed affairs.

Earlier in April, the rector and external advisory board of
Nürtingen-Geislingen University in Baden-Württemberg
âurgently
recommendedâ that a faculty member stop his field trials on
insect-resistant and fungal-resistant GM maize. The experiments, which
were also approved by the BVL, had been going on since 1996. âWe have
always been very critical of this kind of research,â says economist
Werner Ziegler, the university's rector. âLately things got out of
control. There were e-mail attacks, vandalism, intimidation and
personal threats. People started calling us 'Monsanto University'.â

The final straw, Ziegler says, was when the local population brought
food and blankets to activists occupying the university's
Oberboihingen test site. Local media and supporters hailed the illegal
action as a brave act of civil inconvenience.

The university's experiments were led by Andreas Schier, who studies
fungal toxins in maize. Although legally the university could not have
forced him to stop the field trials, he says he eventually gave in
because the pressure on him had become too great. âScientifically,
there was no reason whatsoever to discontinue the experiments,â Schier
says. âBut scientific arguments don't count in a climate of mass
hysteria.â

Schier claims that Ziegler and members of the advisory board
threatened to publicly distance themselves from him and his research
if he were to continue. âI couldn't stand the pressure any more,â he
says.

The incidents reveal a new level of public hostility to plant genetic
engineering in Germany, says Heinz Saedler, a director at the Max
Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne, which this
year is not cultivating GM crops either. âIt is a very sad thing that
some universities here haven't got the backbone to withstand illegal
activism and public pressure,â he says. âI honestly don't have much
hope left for the future of academic research on GM crops in Germany.â

âIf it is indeed true that universities in Germany hinder faculty
members from doing field research on GM crops for fear of being
vandalized by anti-GM activists, then this is disgraceful,â says
Vivian Moses, a visiting professor of biotechnology at King's College
London.

ADVERTISEMENT

Vandalism and the destruction of GM crops have been common in Germany
and elsewhere in Europe since field trials began 20 years ago. As a
result, academic research in the field is becoming scarcer. Germany
hosts around a third of the European field trials this year, on an
area of just 30 hectares. Europe's GM crop-cultivation research is
almost negligible compared with that in the United States, Brazil and
Canada.

âWork in the field is no longer appreciated because there is a
perception that commercially it doesn't lead anywhere, at least in the
short term,â says Moses. âWe need to face up to reality: is the global
food crisis upon us, and must we take action, or will Europe continue
to act as an ostrich, doing its best to ignore modern agricultural
technology?â


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