October 3, 2007 / 3:39 PM / in 10 years

French farmers say GMO ban harmful

PARIS (Reuters) - France risks losing its seat among top food producers if it rejects genetically modified (GMO) crops altogether in an upcoming law on biotech organisms, French farmers and producers said on Wednesday.

<p>Anti-GMO activists destroy genetically-modified corn in a field in Miradou near Toulouse, France August 19, 2006. France risks losing its seat among top food producers if it rejects genetically modified crops altogether in an upcoming law on biotech organisms, French farmers and producers said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Georges Bartoli</p>

Orama, the lobby gathering French grain and oilseed growers, joined by seedmakers and several politicians, warned against “peddlers of fear” which fight against the use of GMO at a time when most other big producers adopt the technology.

The call is part of a wide government-led debate on the future of France’s environment policy during which the fate of GMOs in the country has been a subject of heated discussions.

France and many other European countries, pressured by reluctant consumers, has long opposed a widespread use of GMO crops, contrary to other big producers such as the United States which has a far higher take-up of GMO technology.

“Today there are 102 million hectares sown with GMO seeds around the world. What we fear is that if France rejects GMOs we will be left behind and be dependent on other countries technology,” said Orama’s president Philippe Pinta.

“If we discourage research we doom our future,” he added.

French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said last month that the government wanted to continue allowing laboratory research on GMOs but envisaged to ban both the sale and cultivation of GMO crops.

The idea was welcomed by green groups, opposed to the technology they say could prove dangerous to human health, but it was widely criticized by farmers who say France needs to keep up research, which also implies field tests.

“If we want to fight against the U.S. domination we have to give ourselves the means to do so,” said Jean-Yves Le Deaut, head of a parliamentary commission on GMOs.

Under pressure from skepticism among ordinary consumers towards biotech foods -- polls show that between 75 and 80 percent are opposed to GMOs -- France has only granted approval for one type of GMO crop, produced by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto, to be cultivated for commercial purposes.

So far, just 22,000 hectares -- 1.5 percent of France’s cultivated land -- have been sown with GMO maize this year.

Farmers also stress a contradiction between banning production and/or research on biotech crops and allowing the import of food products that contain GMOs.

“The French will end up being the laughing stock because they’ll be eating what they refuse allowing their farmers to grow,” said Christian Pees, president of France’s seedmakers group Euralis.

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