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Biosafety research conclusions

Genetically modified Bt maize is safe

Scientists presented a clear conclusion during International Green Week in Berlin: genetically modified Bt maize is as safe as conventional maize. In fact, they say it is better for protecting species diversity in fields and that cultivation of Bt maize could help prevent soil erosion and conserve soil fertility. This is one of the results of research projects on the environmental impacts of GM plants that have been funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) over the past 25 years.

Are GM plants safe?
The panel at the visitors’ farm drew conclusions from 25 years of BMBF-funded research.

From left: Prof. Joachim Schiemann, head of the Institute for Biosafety in Plant Biotechnology at the Julius Kühn-Institut; Prof. Kristina Sinemus, Managing Director of Genius GmbH, who moderated the discussion; Petra Steiner-Hoffmann, Head of Section at the BMBF; Dr Stefan Rauschen, who has been leading the safety research on Bt maize for the past few years.

During the panel discussion yesterday afternoon, Stefan Rauschen from RWTH Aachen University and Joachim Schiemann, head of the Institute for Biosafety in Plant Biotechnology at the Julius Kühn-Institut, emphasized the fact that none of the GM plants investigated so far have been found to have harmful effects on the environment.

In the opinion of Petra Steiner-Hoffmann, Head of Section at the BMBF, the BMBF’s investment in this research has been worthwhile. To date, the BMBF has invested over 100 million euros in more than 300 projects, of which 120 related to risk assessments of GM plants. She did say, however, that the research findings needed to play a greater role in the public debate about plant biotechnology. For its part, the BMBF intends to continue to promote plant biotechnology, particularly in view of the proven environmental safety of GM plants, and is advocating freedom of research and an openness towards new technologies: “We must not rule out certain technologies from the outset. We need an intelligent mix of new technologies and these include plant biotechnology”.

Joachim Schiemann pointed out that biosafety research in Germany also supports responsible use of plant biotechnology in other countries. The expertise that German scientists acquire through their research is put to good use by organisations like the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Developing countries, which account for 90 per cent of the 15 million farmers who grow GM crops, also benefit from German and other European activities when developing their own risk assessment capacities.

The panel members expressed their concern that the current anti-GMO climate in Germany could lead to a further brain drain of top researchers. “Plant biotechnology was invented in Germany in the 1980s,” says Joachim Schiemann, who claims many scientists are now leaving this field of research, partly because of the risk of crop vandalism. According to Stefan Rauschen, it is therefore understandable that only a small number of the new generation of scientists are interested in plant biotechnology, but it means that Germany is starting to fall behind its international competitors in this field of research.

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