French GM bill lays policy foundations

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Gm crops Genetically modified organism Genetically modified food

The French parliament yesterday passed a bill that sets a precedent
for the development of policy on the cultivation of genetically
modified (GM) crops.

The bill lays out the general principle for the "freedom"​ to produce and consume GM organisms as long as there is no harm to public health or to the environment. A national register will also be established to indicate the nature and location of GM cultivation. To protect the areas, the bill set a two year jail term and a fine of €75,000 for destroying GM crops. The penalty is more severe for destroying crops intended for research. Sabotage has been a popular choice for anti-GM campaigners, such as the farmer-activist Jose Bove. Additionally, the bill said the distance between GM crops and conventional crops will be dependent on the type of plant. Environmentalists have argued the bill does not go far enough in preventing cross-contamination of nearby conventional crops, which is one of the main concerns about GM cultivation. Another key concern among the oppostion is that the effects on long-term health are unknown. The bill does not say exactly how the level of risk to public health will be determined. Reactions to the bill ​ Nathalie Moll, executive director of Europabio, told the bill is "a good first step into establishing biotech legislation inFrance". ​She explained the bill should become law very soon, but there are still technicalities to be drawn up, which are expected before the end of the year. Meanwhile, Reuters News Agency said Socialists will call for a review of the bill's constitutionality. It said both the Socialists and environmentalists say it "blurs the line between natural and GM foods".​The bill is the second one concerning GM cultivation to be voted on in France this month. The first was thrown out last week on a technicality as many of President Sarkozy's party were absent for the vote. France's ban​ France implemented a ban on the commercial cultivation of GM crops last October, preventing new crops being planted until a GM bill, such as the one voted on yesterday. It extended the ban earlier this year, saying it had to await the European review on Monsanto's MON810. This is the only GM maize permitted for cultivation in France, and was approved for use in the EU in 1998, requiring a review every 10 years. The maize contains a gene that defends the crop against the European corn borer, an insect pest that eats the stem. While France's new bill will not result yet in an end to the ban, it seems a step back towards GM acceptance. The cultivation of GM crops in Europe increased by 77 per cent in 2007, according to figures released by the biotech industry association EuropaBio. French GM crop cultivation experienced the greatest increase in Europe, quadrupling in size from 5,000 hectares in 1996 to over 21,000 hectares last year. GM inEurope​ There have been no new biotech crops approved for cultivation in Europe since 1998, while worldwide there are more than 120 GM products for 23 crops. The current situation facing GMO acceptance in Europe is inconsistent, with bans on the cultivation of GM crops implemented in France, Austria, Poland, Hungary and Greece. Following a complaint by the US in 2003, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruled that some European countries were breaking international trade rules by stopping the import of GM foods and crops. In January, the Commission was given yet more time to bring member states in compliance with trade obligations on GM crops after failing to meet its deadline. However, while no new GM approvals look likely to be made any time soon, the Commission has now asked Austria to lift its ban.

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