The genetic engineering (GE)  free movement in Germany and all farmers, producers and consumers who don’t want GE on the fields and in the food have a big reason to celebrate!. The Federal Constitutional Court in Germany reaffirmed that the existing German GE law that handles the marketing and cultivation of GMOs in Germany is in line with their constitution. The Court also acknowledged the unknown long-term risks of GMOs.

In more detail, during 2005, one of Germanys 16 federal states - Saxony Anhalt - supported by a lawyer of Monsanto (Freshfield &Co) - challenged the German GE-law. The epicenter of complaint was the liability rules and the public register which is a tool to inform the public where GE crops are grown. They claimed that these provisions of the law prevent farmers who want to cultivate GE crops to do so and that it is incompatible with the constitution. It may sound unbelievable but the former government of the state of Saxony-Anhalt took the side of the GE industry.

After 5 years, the top court’s decision comes to give a big blow to the GE industry intensions to abolish democratic provisions. The court confirmed that long-term risks of GMO are unknown because of the current scientific state of art. Therefore the government has a special obligation of executive care. Furthermore the government cannot handle this subject with a simple cost-benefit analysis. It is the government's responsibility to take care of the conservation of nature for future generations. In its decision the court several times pointed out that genetic engineering take a hand in the structures of life and the outcome/the aftermath could be irreversible. Hence there has to be a high level of precaution concerning the cultivation and the marketing of GMO products. (Read more in German)

One of the issues of the complaint was the fact that Germany has a public cultivation register where all farmers have to declare the locations of their GE fields and all data related to their cultivations.  The court acknowledged that this register is very important for a democratic, pluralistic society. The register is a tool to inform the society and contribute in the process of forming public opinions. Another issue was the strict liability rules – and the court approved them completely.  For instance, GE-farmers have to pay if GE-pollen contaminates neighbor fields. The court has also identified that GMO has especially drawbacks for the GE-free agriculture.

We know that GE organisms (plants, animals, micro-organisms) are living organisms that can multiply and cross-breed and pose a threat of irreversible damage to biodiversity and ecosystems; furthermore their effects on human and animal health are unknown. Therefore, there is an urgent need to adopt the precautionary principle and stop this high risk experiment.

This decision of the German court should be taken very seriously from all the governments in Europe as well the European Commission that aims to authorise more GE crops in Europe without addressing the risks and the liability issue. The future of agriculture is about ecological farming aligned with nature and should not include GE crops.

Stephanie Töwe-Rimkeit, is a sustainable agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace Germany.

Photo: Activists plant GE-free potatoes in Germany. © Bente Stachowske / Greenpeace