France moves towards GM - opposition remains

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Gm maize Genetically modified food Gm

Anti-GM pressure groups are targeting France just as the country
appears to be growing receptive to the technology.

Last week, Greenpeace activists entered a GM maize field in Grezet Cavagnan, southern France, and carved a giant 'crop circle' with an 'X' in the maize, marking the field, according to the activists, as a contamination zone.

The action was in response to a ruling by a French court, in which Greenpeace France was ordered to take down maps from its website that showed the location of commercial GM maize fields in France.

"As we are now forbidden to publish these maps of GM maize on our web page, we have gone into the fields and marked it for real,"​ said Arnaud Apoteker, of Greenpeace France.

"We will continue to show where GE maize is grown, until the French Government fulfils its responsibility and publishes an official register of GM fields that is accessible to every citizen."

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

This might suggest that the historical rejection of GM technology in Europe is on the wane. 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.

However, Henard admitted that this expansion of GM technology must be weighed against continued French consumer resistance. Earlier this month, 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. And pressure groups such as Greenpeace remain intent on ensuring that the issue remains in the public eye.

The pro-GM lobby however 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.

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.

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