In a landmark decision Nov. 23, 2005, the European Union (EU) for the first time allowed one of its member states to compensate farmers whose crops suffer genetically modified organism (GMO) contamination. Despite lifting its “unofficial ban” in mid-2004, most EU member states and European consumers continue to be wary of GMOs.

Danish growers who choose to farm GMO crops now must pay a 100 Danish Kroner (about $16) tax per hectare into an insurance-type fund. Non-GMO growers who find GMO contamination of more than 0.9%, the EU's threshold, will qualify for compensation from the fund. EU law requires products whose GMO contents surpass the threshold to be labeled as GMO, so farmers with “contaminated” products end up with prices far lower than “clean” crops would normally get. The fund's intention is to pay the price difference.

The 2004 law went into effect for five years, before which time a national insurance program will be developed to take the levy's place in the future.

According to the European Commission, the payment of compensation does not free the GMO grower from any civil or criminal liability under Danish law. The Danish authorities will in all cases take action to recover the compensation paid from the farmer from where the GMO material has spread, the Commission said in a statement.

The Danish law was pushed through the national parliament last year by then-agriculture minister Mariann Fischer Boel, who now serves as the EU's farm commissioner. She has said repeatedly she would like to look into a similar law for all 25 member-states. The EU will likely unveil a proposal next year after an April conference in Vienna on co-existence.

In related news, last November Swiss voters approved a ban on GMO farming in Switzerland for five years. Though the ban doesn't change much in practice, some are concerned the new law will bring a dark cloud over the country, which is well known for research in pharmaceuticals and agri-chemicals. The law bans the growing of GMO crops and livestock, but doesn't ban research.