In Hungary there is both a deep-seated social distrust of biotech crops and the belief that Hungarian farmers profit from being a leading ‘GMO-free’ supplier of food and feed.
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Required Report - public distribution
GAIN Report Number: HU1201
Agricultural Biotechnology Annual
In Hungary there is both a deep-seated social distrust of biotech crops and the belief that Hungarian
farmers profit from being a leading ‘GMO-free’ supplier of food and feed to European markets.
Hungary has constitutionally banned genetically engineered plants from its agricultural sector and has
recently amended its Act on Biotechnology. In 2011, non-transparent enforcement of new seed testing
rules resulted in the destruction of corn fields and large fines for seed companies.
Section I. Executive Summary:
Hungary is a major European producer of corn, wheat, and rapeseed. Hungary opposed the use of
genetically engineered (GE) plant varieties well before its EU membership in 2004. At the time, a main
argument was the defense of Hungary’s position as a non-GE supplier to the European corn and corn
seed market. Maintaining an edge in European markets was also given as a reason for Hungary’s 2005
moratorium on the planting of the EU-approved MON 810 corn variety. However, according to polls at
that time, Hungarian consumers were not all against GE products and farmers were quite curious about
A major turn in came with elections in 2010 when a new coalition led by the Fidesz Party received a
qualified majority in the Parliament. The new Parliament re-wrote the Constitution to include many
new themes, including a ban on ‘GMO’ crops. The philosophy of the governing coalition has raised
populist sentiments against globalization, foreign influence, and promised to re-establish traditional
Hungarian values. In agriculture, this has led to a public emphasis on domestic plant and animal
varieties, traditional production methods, and to a certain extent, campaigns against foreign
technologies, foreign ownership, and foreign products. While the rhetoric has at times been strong, in
practice there has been little change in the agricultural technologies used or crops chosen by Hungarian
farmers since 2010.
Following the 2010 elections, the former Ministries of Environment and Agriculture were merged into
the Ministry of Rural Development (MRD). This reflected the growing voice of the Hungarian “green”
movement and resulted in further administrative opposition to GE crops and related enforcement
A recent amendment of the Act on Biotechnology did not bring large new policy changes; however,
enforcement of the law and the use of Ministry Orders give the government broad authority.
Section II. Plant Biotechnology Trade and Production:
No biotechnology crop varieties are produced in Hungary. The country is among the strongest
opponents of agricultural biotechnology in the EU, in a category with Austria, Belgium, Greece, Italy,
Latvia and Slovenia.
In the late 1990’s, Hungary was active in the development basic GE crop science. However, the hostile
regulatory and political environment has effectively discouraged domestic development of the
technology. More recently, in cooperation with researchers from other countries, more attention has
been given to environmental, food, and feed safety research.
Corn would be the most likely crop for the use of GE technology if it were not forbidden in Hungary.
On January 20, 2005, the Government of Hungary imposed a moratorium on corn varieties containing
the EU approved MON 810 corn event. Biotech opponents praised the European Union Council of
Ministers for upholding Hungary’s ban in February 2007 and March 2009.
Imports of biotech crops are a different matter. Like most other European countries, Hungary has a
structural shortage of protein for animal feed. To meet demand, Hungary imports large quantities of
soybean meal annually for use by the poultry, pork, and dairy sectors. Most imports are in the form of
soybean meal that has been extracted from GE soybeans.
Hungarian Imports of Soybean Meal
2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
673,423 813,226 734,362 596,003 640,888 569,542
Source of Data: Eurostat, GTIS
Section III. Plant Biotechnology Policy:
On April 25, 2011, Hungary adopted a new constitution, which entered into force on January 1, 2012.
The the following parts relate to GE crops:
“Constitution, pg. 11, Chapter “Freedom and Responsibility”
1. All have the right to physical and spiritual health.
(2)Hungary promotes the realization of the rights as stated in paragraph (1) by operating an agriculture
free of genetically modified organisms, by providing access to healthy food and drinking water, by
organizing labour safety and health care, by subsidizing sports and regular physical training and by
ensuring protection of the environment.”
Responsible Government Organizations
While the Hungarian government does advocates for biotechnology in general a way to further
economic development, it makes a clear differentiation between red biotech (which is encouraged) and
green, “open air” biotechnology, which is thoroughly discouraged.
For matters relating to agricultural biotechnology, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development
(MRD) takes the lead regulating the cultivation, importation, and processing into food/feed of GE
varieties. The National Food Chain Safety Office (NEBIH) is the top government organization handling
the technical aspects of regulating GE crops such as inspection, testing, registering plant varieties etc.
Decisions as the “biotechnology authority”, however, are made by the MRD.
The “independent” Biotechnology Body evaluates applications for biotechnology activities and products
(new varieties, genes, etc.), although the approval is formally made by the Ministry. Members of the 17
strong Biotechnology Body are nominated by the Hungarian Academy of Science, Ministries, and
NGOs. Civil Servants (government employees) are not members of the Biotechnology Body.
Ministries typically nominate scientists or experts from ‘think tanks’ belonging to their Department.
Under a recent amendment to the Act on Biotechnology, Biotechnology Body members are obliged to
report on any potential conflicts of interest with private industry.
Other Ministries (such as the Ministry of Human Resources and the Ministry of National Economy) are
responsible for medical and pharmaceutical biotechnology and industrial strategy. (For more about the
biotechnology in Hungary, see the Annual Report of the Hungarian Biotechnology Association
The main piece of legislation governing biotechnology is the 1998 Act On Biotechnology (as amended
by No. LXVII. of 2002, No. CVII. of 2006 and most recently by the Act No. LXXIV. of 2012).
The preamble to the amendment notes that a main reason for the amendment is to harmonize and update
rules on coexistence. The goal is to prevent the unregulated entry into production of new GE plant
varieties approved by the EU. The former Ministry of Environment merged with the Ministry of
Agriculture in 2010 and this is also a reason why the entire approval system for gene technology
activities had to be reviewed and updated.
Main features of the 2012 amendment, which came into force by July 1. , 2012, are:
- The Act refines the rules of non-commercial release of GE varieties (for research), gene technology
activities, and the agricultural and food production aspects of thereof.
- The amendment give expanded powers to environmental, agricultural, and industrial biotechnology
authorities. The new law mandates cooperation by GE variety owners with the Competent
Authorities. For example, GE crop developers/owners are obliged to provide authorities with
samples of genetic material. This rational given for this is that authorities may not only prescribe
control or additional tests by the applicant but the office may also study ecological or other effects
through research and testing by independent laboratories.
- For imports of food and feed containing GE materials for direct consumption, the Act orders the use
of legal and administrative procedures corresponding to the European Union rather than requiring
additional tests. [In practice, this serves to ensure uninterrupted importation of soybeans and
soybean meal, which are critical sources of protein for Hungary’s meat and dairy sector. Most of
the soybeans/soybean meal imported into Hungary are produced using GE varieties.]
- The Amendment also deals with ‘non-GMO zones’ set up by local, non-government initiatives, and
the release of the public decisions in the official gazette of the gene technical authority (the Ministry
of Rural Development).
It is important to note that detailed implementing rules for the amended Biotechnology Act have yet to
be written by the relevant Ministries.
Biotechnology research is conducted in several government-funded institutes, such as the Godollo
Agricultural Biotechnology Center (www.abc.hu ), the Biological Research Center (www.szbk.u-
szeged.hu ), and the Agricultural Research Institute at Martonvasar (www.mgki.hu ). University
knowledge centers and private companies are also involved in the basic research and applications in
“closed system” genetic studies. Because of the hostile environment for crop gene technology,
however, applied science programs of this kind are frequently masked as plant protection,
environmental, or nutritional experiments.
The Hungarian Government approved its Coexistence Regulation on November 27, 2006 (See our
report HU6015). This imposed a “de facto” ban on biotech production due neighbor consent
requirements and excessive isolation distances.
For example, farmers seeking to plant a GM crop would need prior written consent from neighboring
land owners. This is especially difficult in Hungary due to the post communist legacy of fragmented
land ownership. Under the by1990’s era Cooperative Land Re-privatization program, larger fields often
belong to numerous joint owners.
The isolation distance set by the Coexistence Regulation for corn is 400 meters, more than double that
of the distance typically used in hybrid seed propagation (where genetic purity is a practical concern)
and much larger than the required isolation distances in the few EU Member States producing biotech
crops. For example, in Hungary, if a 30-hectare field was planted with biotech corn, then the 152
hectares surrounding it should be planted with other crops than corn.
The question of unnecessarily large isolation distance under Coexistence Regulation came up again in
the summer of 2011 when fields planted with corn seed allegedly containing GE traces were ordered
destroyed. The use of large segregation distances expanded the area for destruction far into the
neighboring fields and significantly increased costs to private firms.
Hungary follows EU labeling standards, although because of the stigma, no ‘GMO’ labeled foods are
marketed. Detailed information on EU biotechnology labeling requirements is available in the EU-27
Biotechnology Annual Report.
Plant propagation materials (including seeds) go through sampling and laboratory analyses for the
presence of GE traits. Corn is the most common target of the government’s GE testing efforts. Most
hybrid corn seed and feed corn produced Hungary comes from genetics supplied and developed by
American companies. These same U.S. companies form the backbone of the Hungarian corn industry
and they have significant investments in seed processing facilities and long-term relationships with
farmers to grow seed corn.
In late 2010 and in the spring of 2011, the Minister of Rural Development announced increased
sampling of planting seed for traces of GE varieties. The measure was based on new rul ies relating to
biotech testing. Importantly, the policy was implemented during the seed distribution and planting
season. Several months after sampling, after planting had occurred, the Hungarian government notified
two foreign seed companies that monitoring had detected GE varieties in their conventional seeds.
Subsequently, Hungarian authorities ordered the destruction of several thousand of hectares of corn and
a smaller area of soybeans. The companies were forced to compensate farmers for the destroyed fields
at a cost of millions dollars. In 2012, another foreign company also allegedly violated Hungary’s zero
tolerance for GE traces, resulting in the destruction of over 1,500 hectares of corn.
There have been serious doubts about the accuracy of sampling and tests conducted by Hungarian
authorities and Hungarian officials have refused to share details of their sampling and testing programs
related to alleged violations. In 2011, Hungarian officials also refused to consider independent sampling
and testing results in its enforcement decisions. Moreover, the companies maintain internal ISO-certified
testing processes that are supported by testing results from independent accredited labs throughout
In the fall of 2011, a new seed monitoring system was put into place and the sampling and evaluations
are being conducted in a timelier manner. An amendment to the seed regulation, [No. 23/2012 [March
19] order of the MRD on the Production and Commercial Sale of Planting Seed of Row Crops] also
seems to have provided a more solid legislative basis for seed inspection.
For processed foods, because of the high costs and technical difficulties of GE testing, inspection tends
to be through ad-hoc anti-biotech campaigns rather than by a formal sampling plan.
The accredited laboratory for biotechnology testing for commercial purposes is Biomi Kft., a joint
venture between the Agricultural Biotechnology Center at Godollo and the Dr. E. Wessling Chemical
Laboratory Kft. (www.biomi.hu).
Official testing for GE events in conducted by laboratories at the National Food Chain Safety Office
Section IV. Plant Biotechnology Marketing Issues:
A few public opinion polls conducted by Hungarian agricultural magazines about five years ago
indicated that rural people and farmers are far less biased with GE crops than any other groups of
consumers. More recently, a 2010 Eurobarometer Report for the Commission indicated above average
positive opinions of Hungarians about biotechnology compared to other Europeans.
Recent results of a university study indicated, however, that the general judgment of people toward
agricultural biotechnology turned more negative from 2006 to 2008. However, many respondents
labeled the technology “superfluous” rather than “dangerous.” With regard to who is considered
trustworthy on biotechnology, on a 1 to 5 scale, Hungarians gave the highest scores to the Academy of
Science (4.25), food scientists (4.11), and international expert panels (4.10). The lowest scores were
given to tabloid papers (1.96), food commercials (2.23) and the Minister of Agriculture (2.38). Mid-
range institutions were the the Association of Food Processors (3.44) and the Ministry of Health (3.08).
The present Hungarian government plays an active role in portraying GE crops negativly. The
government’s “Quality Hungarian Food” has made consumers cautious about anything “artificial,”
whether it be additives, new processing practices, or GE.
While polling data is scarce, we consider Hungarian farmers to be divided about GE technology. Small
farmers see it as a technology giving opportunities only for the large-scale corporate farms. More
progressive farmers are not yet convinced by the benefits of the current generation of GE crops and
consider changes from current technologies risky or not possible in Hungary. Corn, the major
agricultural export, also receives above world market prices in EU countries such as Germany. [Note:
Hungarian corn does not compete against U.S. corn in the European market because of prohibitions
placed on U.S. corn due to the presence of GE varieties.]
Section V. Plant Biotechnology Capacity Building and Outreach:
The Office of Agricultural Affairs Budapest has been involved in several programs to encourage
science-based regulations and to promote regulatory and market acceptance of GM crops grown by U.S.
farmers. Activities have included visits of U.S. Government officials, scientists, and representatives
from U.S. producer groups. Similarly, the office has facilitated visits to the United States by Hungarian
professionals involved in biotechnology.
The Zoltan Barabas Agricultural Biotechnology Association, a non-government organization of
scientists and companies involved in agricultural biotechnology, provides the general public with
scientific and agronomic background information on agricultural biotechnology. The Association
publishes a newsletter “Zold Biotechnologia” (Green Biotechnology) and maintains a website of the
same title www.zoldbiotech.hu . In 2011, noted Hungarian scholars published a book in English and
Hungarian titled, “Hungarian White Paper – Plain Facts about GMOs.” This publication may also be
found in the USDA report HU1102 titled, “Scientific Community Promotes Plain Facts on GMOs.”
In June 2006, the “Pannonian Region Agricultural Biotechnology Association” was established by
scientists, plant breeders, and seed companies from Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia,
Slovenia, Romania, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and Ukraine. This group facilitates regional
collaboration, information exchange, on agricultural biotechnology.
Section VI. Animal Biotechnology:
Several biotechnology companies, university knowledge centers, and bio-incubators located in four
academic towns deal with research on genetically-engineered (GE) animals in Hungary.
These basic science programs are typically with transgenic rodents in support of medical and
pharmaceutical programs. No commercial use of GE animals has been applied for and/or received in
The animal biotechnology technique closest to practical applications are mainly related to livestock
breeding, such as embryo transfer, progeny evaluation through marker assisted selection, and animal
All kinds of genetic engineering (gene technology): plant, microbe, animal are regulated by the same
Act of 1998 On Biotechnology, as amended. The competent authority for animal biotechnology is the
same as for plant biotechnology (the Ministry of Rural Development or other relevant Ministry covering
basic science, health or other programs). The administrative body which receives and evaluates the GE
applications is the Gene Technology Committee for animal biotechnology experiments.
GE animal research programs so far remain behind the walls of authorized biology laboratories. In
contrast to GE field trials, these ‘closed system’ research programs do not need to be listed and
evaluated by the Gene Technology Committee or approved.
Hungary is a significant importer of animal genetics, including dairy semen and embryos from the
Order number 16/2011 by the Minister of Rural Development amends order number 48/2004 on the Production and
Commercial Distribution of Seeds of Field Crops. Under the prior regulation seed import lots were subject to random
(GMO) testing paid for by the ‘competent authority’ (the Central Agricultural Office). Under the new rule, third country seed
import lots were subject to mandated GMO testing paid for by the importer/distributor. Imported seed lots from other EU
member-states must be accompanies by a negative GMO test from an EU accredited laboratory.