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09BERLIN658 2009-06-03 05:59:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Berlin
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1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The first of a series of German roundtables on
Plant Genetics on May 20 concluded that research in plant
biotechnology remains essential to Germany as a research center and
to the world as a response to food and energy needs. However,
tension remains behind the scenes between the German Federal
Ministries of Research and of Agriculture, with the Agriculture
Ministry suggesting at least in private that Research Ministry
presented a biased panel. Federal Research Minister Schavan of the
Christian Democrat Union Party (CDU) and Federal Agricultural
Minister Aigner of the Christian Social Union (CSU) made a public
show of cooperating in the round table, which was an attempt to
paper over their public disagreement about the safety of
agricultural biotechnology after Aigner banned the planting of
biotech corn in April 2009. A second roundtable is planned for
sometime in mid-June or early July, after EU Parliamentary elections
are concluded, which may make it easier for Aigner to be more
accommodating. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) After Federal Agricultural Minister Ilse Aigner (CSU)
banned the planting of biotech corn in Germany in April, 2009,
Federal Research Minister, Annette Schavan (CDU), publicly
criticized the action. She then announced her intention to initiate
a series of round tables to foster public discussion of and public
confidence in agricultural biotechnology in Germany, reflecting its
value for society, the economy, and the environment and to uphold
Germany's reputation as a leading research country. Schavan also
pointed out that the meetings would provide transparency for the
public about the opportunities and risks of the technology.

3. (SBU) Despite their public spat, Aigner accepted Schavan's
invitation for the Ministry of Agriculture to co-host the
discussion. Many observers saw this as an effort to try and bring
the CSU and CDU to a more unified position in public. Schavan
invited 30 experts representing research, farm organizations, plant
breeders, the food industry, churches, a consumer organization and
representatives of the German states for the first round table. It
focused on how plant breeding can cope with increased global food
demand and the demand for fuels, as well as on research and
application of biotechnology in Germany.

4. (SBU) It was a surprise when Aigner said after the meeting that
"modern biotechnology can account for future saving of energy and
resources, and the development of healthier animal feed or plants."
Observers credited the meeting with starting a more objective
discussion of GMOs in Germany. However, several media as well as
discussion participants criticized the forum as lacking a sufficient
number of biotech opponents and development aid experts. The
concluding press statements of the two ministers highlighted their
different approaches. Aigner emphasized that future biotech
research should take place in greenhouses. Schavan focused her
statement on the opportunity to develop new crops resulting from
advances in science.


5. (SBU) Sources have indicated that Schavan plans to use the next
meeting in mid-June or early July to counter complaints that there
has not been enough research on biotechnology. We understand that
she intends to highlight how biotech research has influenced
national biotech policy decisions. Experts at the Ministry of
Research (BMBF) have privately indicated they would also like to
compare the research efforts done on biotech versus organic
agriculture. BMBF contacts mentioned a possible topic could be a
discussion on research done to assess the risk of the toxicity of Bt
toxin in biotech corn plants and pollen compared to the toxicity of
the Bt insecticide used by organic farmers.

6. (SBU) Comment: While Schavan and Aigner have tried to appear
more cooperative publicly, behind the scenes, the situation is still
tense. Ag Ministry sources stated that Aigner was unhappy with the
make-up of the first panel and thought that it was too heavily
weighted toward industry views. She has also said that she expected
to issue the invitations to the second panel. On the other hand,
sources in BMBF indicate that Schavan does not intend to give up
control of this process. The CSU is using its opposition to biotech
as a campaign issue in the June 7 EU Parliamentary elections. It is

BERLIN 00000658 002 OF 002

possible that some of the tension between the CDU and CSU on this
topic might dissolve thereafter. End Comment

7. This cable was coordinated with Consulate General Munich.