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French GM food on the rise, says report

By Anthony Fletcher , 18-Jul-2006

France is set for an explosion in GM corn planting this year, according to a recent USDA GAIN report.

The Global Agriculture Information Network (GAIN) study said that French Bt corn acreage is expected to boom from 500 ha in 2005 to 5,000 ha in 2006, as a result of the economic advantages experienced by Bt corn growers in 2005.

"The pervasive presence of the European corn borer in Southern France provides strong incentive for further expansion," wrote Marie-Cecile Henard.

 

"Bt corn is viewed as providing an effective and profitable remedy against the European corn borer in this region, which contains 400,000 to 500,000 hectares, i.e., almost a third of the total French corn acreage."

 

However, Henard said that this incentive must be weighed against continued French consumer resistance. This week, Jose Bove and other high profile opponents of GM crops in France reaffirmed their commitment to destroy GM fields.

 

According to Bove, around 40 per cent of GM trials were destroyed in the course of seven acts of sabotage.

 

But Henard believes that more and more farmers are being won over by pro-GM arguments.

 

"While the French Biotech Bill is still pending in the Parliament, farmers are adopting coexistence practices based on studies by the French corn growers association (AGPM) and the recommendations of seed companies," she wrote.

 

The findings of this pro-GM study suggest that the historical rejection of GM technology in Europe is on the wane, with consumer acceptance not far away. The WTO of course famously ruled earlier this year that Europe had violated its trade rules by banning GM food imports between 1999 and 2003, a ruling welcomed by the US food industry that claimed the EU ban has cost them some $300 million a year in lost sales.

 

The EU's approach to GM food regulation has long been criticised on the other side of the Atlantic for having little theoretical basis, and pandering to the fears and prejudices of its citizens. The EU's precautionary principle for example, which rules that regulators should err on the side of caution, assumes that a prevention strategy is always appropriate.

 

A recent European Commission (EC) communique reads: 'decision-makers have to take into account fears generated by these perceptions and put in place preventative measures'.

 

The pro-GM lobby believes that overly stringent regulations, based on public perceptions of danger rather than scientific evidence, have resulted in the unnecessary rejection of significant new GM-based products. Last week's GAIN study, following on from the WTO decision, will therefore be welcomed by this group.

 

The French pro-GM farm community is also still hoping to receive some legal clarity in the coexistence area. The French Biotech Bill, which will set rules on GM and non-GM coexistence was voted on by the Senate last March but, since May, has been languishing in the National Assembly.

 

Coexistence remains a controversial issue and politicians are wary of acting on this legislation in the current pre-presidential and Parliamentary campaign period before the elections of May 2007.

 

Indeed, it is clear that Member States still need to be convinced that introducing genetically modified ingredients into food production is acceptable. The Commission has asked EU members over ten times to vote on authorizing a GMO food or feed product, but in the large majority of cases, there was no agreement or simple deadlock.