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Biotechnology and Life Sciences in Baden-Württemberg

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11.12.2003

Cultivation and deliberate release of genetically modified crops

In global terms, it is possible to detect an increase in the areas used for the cultivation of genetically modified crops, although in Europe this tendency is digressive. Due to the de-facto moratorium in the EU, the number of field tests undertaken since 1998 has dropped by around eighty per cent.

With effect from 2003, Bt maize is being cultivated again in Spain. Spain was practically the only country of the European Union in which, despite the de-facto moratorium on the authorization of genetically modified cultured plant species in the EU, genetically modified crops were cultivated at all, and even here only in small quantities amounting in recent years to around 20,000 hectares a year (Nature Biotechnology June 03, p. 593).

USA, Canada, Argentina, and China number one

Sample area
Sample area of the Biologische Bundesanstalt (BBA) with genetically modified rape (Picture: Dr. Stephan Kühne, BBA-Kleinmachnow, www.biosicherheit.de) 
The first genetically modified seeds were sown in the USA in 1996. Six years later, the area under cultivation has risen around the world to 58.7 million hectares ? of which herbicide-resistant soya beans account for 36.5 million, maize for 12.4 million, cotton for 6.8 million and rape for 3 million hectares. This reflects an extremely fast rise in the cultivation of genetically modified crops worldwide, equalling more than 1.5 times the total area of Germany in 2002.
Large-area cultivation of GMO crops takes place primarily in the USA, Canada, Argentina and China. Almost 99 per cent of the area under cultivation is divided among these three countries: USA (29 million hectares), Argentina (13.5), Canada (3.5) and China (2.1). Twelve other countries use genetically modified crops. In the year 2002, three new countries were added to the list of those cultivating GMOs: India and Columbia with Bt cotton, the Honduras with Bt Maize. According to the "International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech" (ISAAA), more than half the world's soya production originates from genetically modified soya.
A report on the global cultivation of GMO crops in 2002 can be obtained from "TransGen", as can data on the share of the total crop in the USA in 2003 accounted for by GVOs. In the USA, once again more genetically modified species were sown than in the previous year. The proportion of soya accounted for by GMO has risen to 80%. The only slight decrease registered is for cotton.

Herbicide resistance: the most common trait engineered into plants

In worldwide terms, substantially more GMO strains of soya, maize and rape were cultivated in 2002, while the proportion of cotton remained almost unchanged. In the case of soya and rape, the cultivated GMO strains have herbicide resistance. In the case of maize and cotton, crops existed with either herbicide or pest resistance, or a combination of both characteristics. Genetically engineered herbicide and pest resistance also dominated in 2002. Transgenetic plants with different characteristics currently play a very minimal role in commercial cultivation. Three-quarters (75%) of all cultivated GMO plants were herbicide resistant, 17% pest resistant, and 8% were equipped with both characteristics.
Beim Robert Koch-Institut (RKI) sind in einer Datenbank sämtliche At the Robert-Koch-Institute (RKI), all field trials in Germany and the EU can be inspected in a database. The authorities operating under the German Federal States are responsible for monitoring the trials. In the case of Baden-Württemberg, this role is undertaken by the Regierungspräsidium Tübingen.

Due largely to the de-facto moratorium by the European Commission on the authorization of new transgenetic plant species and the impending decision relating to the new Directive on Labelling and Traceability of Genetically Modified Foods, the number of field trials undertaken in the European Union has fallen by around eighty per cent since 1998. This trend has also been confirmed as applicable to Baden-Württemberg by the Regierungspräsidium Tübingen. Authorizations have been in a decline since 2001.
One pointer towards the problem issues surrounding the release of GMOs lies in the outcrops of resistance which repeatedly occur to planned field trials. Genetically modified wheat has still to be launched on the world marketplace. In Germany no genetically modified wheat has been cultivated even on an experimental basis. The company Syngenta Seeds GmbH had applied in October 2002 for approval to run a field trial of genetically modified fungus-resistant wheat at the Robert Koch- Institute. On April 8, 2003, the trial was approved by the Robert Koch Institute as the responsible authority. Despite this, no trial has yet taken place. Briefly before approval was granted, Greenpeace sowed conventional wheat in the field, effectively preventing Syngenta from performing the trial because of the impossibility of any evaluation. The fungus-resistant wheat (Triticum aestivum) is due to be cultivated in 2003 over an area of around 200 sq.m. in Friemar, a location in Thuringia. The wheat has been engineered to be resistant to fusarium, a fungus strain which attacks maize and cereals such as wheat, oats and barley. The new wheat strain does not contain an antibiotic resistance gene. The field test is intended to investigate whether the wheat is able to protect itself effectively under field conditions in this location from fusarium infection. According to Sygenta, no marketable product may be anticipated in Germany until around the year 2010.

In Germany, the deliberate release of genetically modified potatoes on the Roggenstein estate was aborted after a person or persons unknown destroyed the trial field during the night of 24th June 2003. The intention had been to reproduce genetically modified potatoes with an enhanced caroteneoid content compared to conventional strains. The Technical University of Munich had been responsible for submitting the release application and performing the trial. In the potatoes, a gene had been suppressed which normally leads to the production of a protein which in turn forms part of the decomposition of the carotinoid Zeaxanthin.

There had been a heated debate already in the run-up to the approval procedure at the beginning of this year: The Environmental Institute of Munich, various environmental pressure groups and the District Council of Olching, under whose jurisdiction the Roggenstein estate falls, had all submitted objections to the release (www.biosicherheit.de).

A report now provides an overview of genetically modified organism release trials during the period from 1987 to 2002 in the USA, which states that over the last two years alone, more than 10,000 trials were approved, with over 40,000 in total since 1987. (US-public research interest Group; www.uspirg.org)

New applications filed on the deliberate release of genetically modified organism

There had been a heated debate already in the run-up to the approval procedure at the beginning of this year: The Environmental Institute of Munich, various environmental pressure groups and the District Council of Olching, under whose jurisdiction the Roggenstein estate falls, had all submitted objections to the release (www.biosicherheit.de).

A report now provides an overview of genetically modified organism release trials during the period from 1987 to 2002 in the USA, which states that over the last two years alone, more than 10,000 trials were approved, with over 40,000 in total since 1987. (US-public research interest Group; www.uspirg.org)

On the webpage of the Joint Research Center of the European Union, twenty-one applications for genetically modified plant species have now been published in accordance with the new Deliberate Release Eirective. The majority refer to species for which applications had already been made under the previous Deliberate Release Directive.

In the case of four applications, the risk assessments are also already available. In May, the Robert Koch-Institute had accepted, amongst others, an assessment of the Bt Maize line MON 863 and the hybrids of MON 863 x MON 810 from the genetic engineering corporation Monsanto and forwarded these to the EU commission, which publishes the assessments and forwards them to other member states which may in turn submit their comments.
11.12.2003



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