Legal boost for French GM sector

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Appeal Genetically modified food France

Two recent judicial decisions could be the turning point for
biotech cultivation in France, according to a new USDA GAIN report.

The first overturned a lower court ruling exonerating test plot destroyers. The second, reported recently on FoodNavigator, required Greenpeace to remove from its website names and locations of biotech corn growers.

Both decisions, according to the USDA report, could help provide a more conducive environment for biotech cultivation in France.

On June 22nd, the Orleans Court of Appeals upheld the original conviction of 49 people found guilty of destroying biotech plots belonging to Monsanto. This decision overturned a lower court ruling last December releasing the defendants from liability.

The Appeals Court reinstated a two-month jail sentence for one defendant and the others received suspended jail sentences and a 1,000 fine. The Court will continue to investigate Monsanto's claim for 390,000 in damages.

Monsanto welcomed the Court's decision stating that it "implements the law, protecting farmers' property as well as authorised and monitored experimentation."​ The French planting seed organisations commented that the Court's decision underlined the legitimacy of the "right to conduct research."

And on July 26, Greenpeace was judicially required to remove from its website a map of France with the locations of fields of biotech corn, as well as the names of biotech corn growers, because of the privacy infringement. The farmers whose names were indicated on Greenpeace website had sued Greenpeace, with the help of the French Corn Growers Association (AGPM).

In reaction, some activists destroyed some biotech corn in one of these fields, marking a large cross which was photographed from an helicopter by a nationally-known photographer.

Anti-GM pressure groups therefore appear to be targeting France just as the country appears to be growing receptive to the technology. According to another 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.

This would suggest that governments in member states and at the EU level believe that GM technology will be a feature of food production in the future. Having been criticised in the past for failing to develop consistent and science-based regulatory processes governing biotechnology, the bloc appears to be increasingly moving towards enabling the GM sector to flourish.

A major impetus for this of course was the recent WTO ruling, which said that the European ban on GM imports contravened the rules of free trade.

But opposition at the grassroots remains. In France, the group of anti-GM protestors that call themselves 'Faucheurs Volontaires' (Voluntary Cutters) will continue to threaten the biotech industry, and have already claimed that they will attack commercial biotech crops.

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