BioWorld International Correspondent
Denmark is attempting to breathe life back into the politically moribund agenda of agricultural biotechnology in Europe.
The Danish government recently obtained, for the first time, a parliamentary majority in favor of its policy of assessing, on a case-by-case basis, applications for marketing or for commercial planting in Denmark of genetically modified organisms, reversing a blanket ban that had been in place since 1997.
Its environment minister, Connie Hedegaard, now plans to raise the issue at a meeting in Luxembourg with her European Union counterparts on Oct. 17, while Research and Science Minister Helge Sander said he will encourage GM crop research in Denmark.
Denmark's minority government party, Venstre (the Liberal Party), relies on Dansk Folkeparti (the Danish People's Party) for support, but the latter is opposed to GMOs and has blocked government efforts to liberalize the country's policy. That obstacle was removed this month when the main opposition party, Socialdemokratiet (the Social Democratic Party), opted to throw its weight behind Venstre in a parliamentary vote on a joint application on a recombinant maize product filed by Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., a subsidiary of Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont Co., and Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences LLC unit Mycogen Seeds.
Denmark's policy reversal is significant as it was previously among the EU's strongest opponents of agricultural biotechnology.
"Denmark was one of the main countries behind the moratorium that was agreed by the EU in 1997," Kaspar Westphal Pedersen, a spokesman at the Danish Environment Ministry, told BioWorld International. The government - and now the main opposition party - has reversed its stance since the EU put in place strict rules on traceability and labeling of products containing or derived from GMOs. Denmark also has passed domestic legislation establishing a regime for growing GM crops. Those moves have helped alter the public mood on agricultural biotechnology.
"Recent surveys say that Danes have shifted their attitude to GMOs," Pedersen said.
"People are in fact more nuanced in their position than one might expect," said a spokeswoman at the Forest and Nature Agency, a division of the Environment Ministry.
In the wake of the positive vote, Helge Sander said he would encourage the country's fund for advanced technologies to focus on GM crop research.
"This is important, since Denmark has an international position of strength within the agricultural sector," he was quoted in the Danish newspaper Borsen. The government is particularly interested in exploring the possible benefits of biotechnology for agriculture in developing countries.
However, for some the policy shift might have come too late. Danisco A/S, of Copenhagen, one of Europe's largest sugar producers, had pursued a busy program of field trials of GM sugar beets during the late 1990s in Denmark, but it no longer has an active crop breeding program, senior vice president of global innovation and business development Leif Kj rgaard told BioWorld International.
"Denmark could have had a nice position had we not been so reluctant. But that is not the case today and we cannot change that," he said. The company has no plans to re-enter the area at present.
"That would require some thinking before we would do that," he said.