PARIS (Reuters) - France will activate a safeguard clause that will effectively prohibit growing the sole genetically modified (GMO) crop grown in France, Prime Minister Francois Fillon’s office said in a statement on Friday.
Last month, France, pressured by consumers, suspended the commercial use of MON 810, a maize developed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto, in order to look into the environmental and health implications of its use.
A government-appointed committee of scientists, farmers, politicians and organizations said on Wednesday “serious doubts” remained over whether MON 810 could be cultivated without risks, paving the way for the extension of the ban.
“The government is starting the procedure ... in order to activate the safeguard clause on the growth of GMO maize MON 810, until the reevaluation by the European authorities of the authorization and sale of this GMO,” the statement said.
U.S. industry sources have said Washington would pay close attention to France’s announcement before deciding on whether to push for more sanctions at the World Trade Organization against the European Union’s policy on GMOs.
The French statement added that although there were doubts about MON 810 in France, this did not “condemn the interest of this technology for fighting food and environmental challenges.”
The MON 810 technology, which is also used by other maize seed makers, is designed to resist the European corn borer, a pest that attacks maize stalks and thrives in warmer climates in southern EU countries.
Monsanto says the protein contained in its maize has selective toxicity but is harmless to humans, fish and wildlife.
Just 22,000 hectares -- 1.5 percent of France’s cultivated land -- were sown with MON 810 last year.
The statement also announced a plan of investment of 45 million euros in plant biotechnologies.
The EU has approved the use of Monsanto’s MON 810 technology around the 27-nation bloc, but contrary to other big GMO crop producers such as the United States, Canada or Argentina, several EU countries have expressed concern about its safety.
When a country activates the so-called safeguard clause, it has to provide the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, with proof that there is new scientific evidence justifying a ban on the genetically modified MON 810 maize.
The French committee said it had found new negative evidence, pointing to a wider dissemination of GMOs than first acknowledged, and a harmful impact on biodiversity.
If the Commission and EU member states deem France’s arguments invalid, France would probably receive an order to lift its ban, a decision it could then appeal.
France’s decision to extend its ban on MON 810 maize comes at a time when Washington is pondering possible moves to combat GMO policies in Europe.
The EU has until the end of Friday to comply with a WTO ruling to end a ban on imports of genetically modified food, but as the deadline approaches, there is little evidence that GMO imports into Europe are increasing.
The U.S. government could decide on whether to push for more sanctions at the WTO by Monday, U.S. industry sources say.
Reporting by Anna Willard and Missy Ryan in Washington; Editing by Caroline Drees