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New German GMO Liability Law Carries Lessons to NZ

New German GMO Liability Law Carries Lessons for NZ

Sustainability Council Media Statement
3 July 2006

Germany's approach to setting new GMO liability law provides an important example for New Zealand, states a paper released today by the Sustainability Council.

The German Government has sought to explicitly allocate liability for the financial risks arising from the cultivation of GMOs and to protect non-GM farmers. This is in sharp contrast to New Zealand's law that leaves major gaps and implicitly allocates risk and costs to innocent parties.

New Zealand law specific to GMOs imposes strict liability only if an activity is carried out contrary to an ERMA approval. There is no statutory liability for damage arising from unexpected effects or inadequate regulatory control of known risks.

Internationally, liability law is emerging as the crux issue for regulation of GMO cultivation. Wider recognition of the costs and difficulties involved in keeping GM crops separate from conventional plantings have reinforced the importance of a clear allocation of liability.

Austria and Norway were early leaders in establishing a strict liability standard for damage arising from GMOs in the mid 1990s. More recent reviews by the Governments of Denmark, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom have also determined that conventional farmers should not bear the costs of GMO contamination.

Germany's recently revised law addresses key issues for non-GM farmers, including:
• Details of any GMO planting must be made available in advance on a publicly accessible register;
• There is no requirement for harm to have been foreseeable for a claim to succeed;
• Following "good practice" (for example, efforts by GM adopters to limit the flow of GMOs beyond the farm boundary) is of itself not a defence.

A second stage of law reform, including the proposed creation of a compensation fund, is scheduled to proceed during the northern summer.

Germany's Liability Law for GMO Cultivation was written by Anja Gerdung and commissioned by the Sustainability Council in order to provide a clear English language description of the influential German law reforms.

The report is available at: http://www.sustainabilitynz.org/docs/GermanLiabilityLawforGMCultivation.pdf

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