Germany: Champion of Organic Food or GMOs?

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When it comes to the sustainable and organic food movement, the U.S. lags far behind many European countries, including Germany. 

Many German farmers and consumers are dedicated to producing and eating organic, as well as local, but recently it’s been revealed that the German government may not be so committed to organic food after all. Genetically engineered crops are banned in most of Europe, including Germany. But German scientists and researchers are still considered to be at the cutting edge of genetically engineered crop research, testing experimental crops with funding support from the government and in spite of vehement public protest.

While so much of the world regularly consumes large amounts of genetically modified staples such as corn, soy, rice, wheat, and potatoes willingly, the German public has been very proactive in making sure that the food they buy is GMO free. Even fast food restaurants in Germany like Burger King and McDonald’s won’t make fries with genetically engineered potatoes, for fear of tarnishing their image with German consumers. GMOs aren’t even approved for use in animal feed! The citizen-supported ban is pretty powerful, and speaks volumes in support for sustainable, organic food, but to the surprise of many, the German government is putting a lot of money into researching and testing GMOs at the same time that they have banned their use in food, which seems awfully contradictory.

Even more troublesome to many German organic food producers is that the test sites for genetically engineered crops is often in rural agricultural areas where farmers adhere to traditional and sustainable practices. The worry is that the proliferation of the “Frankenstein” plants will end up contaminating nearby fields that produce organic crops via cross-pollination. The outrage among German farmers and food activists is such that some of the premier scientists working on these research projects have been targeted with death threats, and violent acts, as well as more civil protests like uprooting genetically engineered plants or placing local bans on research.

Even though Germany has some of the strictest rules against using or growing genetically modified crops in all of the EU and appears to be so committed to high-quality, organic food, the government also wants to maintain a position of leadership in GMO research in the scientific world. Being on the cutting edge of genetically engineered crop research is the motivation behind providing and approving funding for about 60 university research programs and some of the very best scientists in the field. While the GMOs can’t be sold in Germany or in much of the European Union, they can be sold elsewhere. Furthermore, there is speculation among the scientific community in Europe that they won’t be able to insulate themselves from the use of GMOs forever, and if they need to be used in the future, they may as well be the very best, most advanced, and “safe” varieties. But if the Germany government is content to push the envelope and explore new GMO technology, at least for use in other countries, how strong is their commitment to sustainable agriculture and organic food?

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