BioWorld International Correspondent

MUNICH, Germany - The German state of Sachsen-Anhalt is in the process of taking the country's national government to court over a 2004 law regulating agricultural biotech.

The state will complain directly to Germany's highest court in a two-pronged assault on the law, which was passed in November and took effect at the beginning of 2005. (See BioWorld International, Dec. 1, 2004.)

The first prong is an attempt to overturn the new law as unconstitutional. The Sachsen-Anhalt government argues that the new law discriminates against farmers who plant approved genetically modified crops by making them collectively responsible for any damages awarded to farmers planting non-modified crops unless individual responsibility can be proved. The state government says that provision limits farmers' "freedom to engage in their profession" and that it also limits scientists' research.

Horst Rehberger, Sachsen-Anhalt's economics minister, said, "Anyone planting genetically modified crops would be assuming an incalculable economic risk."

The state, which is in the former East Germany, has one of the country's highest levels of unemployment. The state government is intent on supporting the biotechnology industry, particularly agricultural biotech. In 2004, it led a project to set up one of Germany's largest field tests of parasite-resistant corn. Rehberger said that there are more than 30 biotech companies and research institutes in the state, accounting for about 2,000 jobs.

The second prong is aimed at hindering passage of another law on genetic technology in the national parliament's upper house. That law spells out regulation of public information for fields in which genetically modified crops are planted. As originally proposed by the national government, the law would have set up a public register of fields of genetically modified crops.

Fearing the kind of violence seen against modified crops in several European countries, the opposition lobbied for limits on public access to the register. Because the opposition controls parliament's upper house, the government was pushed toward compromise. A revised version of the law, with some limits, passed the lower house in March. It will be debated this week in the upper house. The government of Sachsen-Anhalt, which is led by parties that are in opposition at the national level, would like to derail its passage entirely. That would render the first law essentially inoperable, because it would lack the regulatory framework to implement its provisions.

Renate Kuenast, Germany's minister for consumer protection, food and agriculture, called the suit "perfidious."

"I don't believe that the state government is doing any favors for itself or the population" with its complaint, she said in German media.

"The constitutional complaint will be lodged with Germany's highest court in the next four weeks," Rainer Lampe, a spokesman for the Sachsen-Anhalt economics ministry, told BioWorld International.