HAMBURG (B)--Swiss life sciences group Novartis confirmed Oct. 19 it is one of three companies which has lodged applications with the German Federal Seeds Agency (BSA) for approval of genetically-modified maize for general cultivation and sale in Germany, a Novartis Seeds spokesman said. The association of German GM companies DIB said recently the industry would increase pressure on the German government unless it started talks about the GM issue.

DIB said that GM producers would press for commercial plantings of GM maize from spring 2001 if the German government did not start the talks promised about the future of the GM industry by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder this summer. The DIB still has no date for the start of talks.

A spokesman for Novartis Seeds in Germany confirmed that an application had been lodged with the federal seeds agency for permission to start commercial sales of GM maize.

"This is a routine matter," the spokesman said. "It is normal for an application to be made for permission to sell seeds which have been undergoing tests for two years, which is the case with these."

The Novartis spokesman declined to name the other companies which have also lodged applications.

The federal seeds agency licenses commercial production of seeds. The Robert Koch research institute has been appointed by the government to give scientific advice on the safety of GM seeds and GM foods generally.

In February, both the federal seeds agency and the Robert Koch institute approved commercial sale of Novartis GM maize. German Health Minister Andrea Fischer personally intervened, ordering that no sales license be issued. Germany's Health Ministry is responsible for food safety.

The Novartis spokesman said the company is still considering its position about possible legal action against the government decision in February.

An official at the Robert Koch institute said: "We are aware of the application for commercial sale of GM maize made by three companies. We are not examining these applications as the commercial sale of the types involved has already been approved by the European Union. Whether they go on sale will depend on permission being given by the federal seeds office and from a higher political level."

Asked whether this means only another direct intervention by the Health Minister is likely to stop the applications, he said: "That could seem so but it is not for me to say."

A spokesman for the federal seeds agency confirmed that applications for commercial GM maize production had been received from three companies but declined to name them. "We also have applications for use of GM sugar beet and rapeseed," he said.

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