GERMANY: Green genetic engineering essential

The German Research Foundation has released a joint memorandum with the German Agricultural Society calling for a change in current policy on research into genetic engineering. The two organisations complain that research in this field is being hampered more and more by "misguided political decisions", referring to the current ban on growing genetically modified crops, but also by the illegal destruction of field tests.

Together with the society, the foundation, Germany's chief research funding organisation, argues that scientists working in higher education and other public-funded research as well as in medium-sized enterprises are increasingly being forced to either restrict research projects in green genetic engineering or even abandon them entirely. They fear that this could lead to Germany losing an important research field altogether in the long run.

Speaking at the presentation of the memorandum in Berlin, DFG President Matthias Kleiner stressed the need for basic research in green genetic engineering and the importance of field trials, but also pointed to the special responsibility of science in assessing the opportunities and risks of green genetic engineering.

"This high level of responsibility is something that our scientists are fully aware of, and they take it very seriously," he said. But Kleiner also argued that such a sense of responsibility had to be matched by an equivalent amount of freedom, with responsibility and freedom being "inextricably linked in basic research".

"We must learn the lessons of Lampedusa and face the challenge of global nutrition, even here in abundant Germany," warned DLG President Carl Albrecht Bartmer, referring to the growing number of refugees on this Italian island as a symbol of population growth and food shortages. "Germany and Europe, privileged by their know-how, land and climate, but above all by a highly qualified and innovative agriculture and food industry, bear a special responsibility here."

Arendt Oetker, President of the Donors' Association for the Promotion of Science and Humanities in Germany, emphasised the importance of a high-tech strategy for Germany. The Donors' Association provides administrative support for a wide range of foundations contributing to higher education and research in Germany, but also runs a number of programmes promoting academic fields itself.

Strategies to improve Germany's competitiveness were crucial to the country's prosperity, Oetker argued. But hampering the practical application of green genetic engineering and politicians stirring up fears were detrimental to demands for innovation. "Especially now, in times of the most severe economic crisis in 80 years, we stand emphatically against this position," Oetker said.