PARIS Jan 13 French government moves to ban the
country's only genetically modified (GMO) crop drew fire on
Sunday from the speaker of the country's parliament, farmers and
biotechnology industry groups.
The government said on Friday it would activate a "safeguard
clause" in European law to suspend the commercial use of MON
810, a maize developed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto (MON.N).
Writing in the Sunday newspaper Journal Du Dimanche,
National Assembly President Bernard Accoyer of the ruling
centre-right UMP party said decisions to ban GMOs should be
based on "irrefutable" evidence, implicitly criticising the
government for basing its decision on a panel's controversial
"The scientists on this (panel) have disassociated
themselves publicly from the conclusions expressed by the
chairman of this body," wrote Accoyer.
"Can our country really bind its future to this fragile and
hasty opinion...?" he added, arguing GMOs offered potential
public health benefits and calling for parliament to establish
its own "high authority" to oversee their authorisation.
When a country activates the safeguard procedure it has to
provide the European Commission, the EU's executive body, with
proof there is new scientific evidence justifying a ban.
If the Commission and European Union member states deemed
France's arguments invalid, France would probably receive an
order to lift its ban, a decision it could then appeal.
INDUSTRY, FARMERS UPSET
In an interview with Reuters, Jacques Beauville, a farmer
near Toulouse who had planted 80 percent of his 127 hectares
with MON 810, accused Paris of caving in to anti-globalisation
protestor Jose Bove, who had gone on hunger strike to protest
the use of GMOs. Bove ended his protest on Saturday.
"If we obey this moratorium then we will end up polluting
more and using more water. Even worse, as yields fall we will
from next August have to buy Argentine maize, which is made
using GMOs," Beauville said.
Around 22,000 hectares -- or 1 percent of France's
cultivated land -- was sown with MON 810 last year.
In a statement on Sunday, the U.S. based Biotechnology
Industry Organization (BIO) said there were no safety concerns
that could justify France's MON 810 ban.
"BIO urges the U.S. government and the European Commission
to object to this unnecessary and unscientific policy at the
highest levels," it said in a statement.
France's announcement on Friday coincided with a deadline
for the EU to comply with a WTO ruling to end a ban on imports
of genetically modified (GMO) food. The EU is not due to respond
until Jan. 21, leaving it open to possible trade sanctions.
The MON 810 technology, which is also used by other seed
makers, is designed to resist the European corn borer, a pest
that attacks maize stalks and thrives in warmer climates.
Monsanto says the protein contained in its maize has
selective toxicity but is harmless to humans, fish and wildlife.
The Commission has approved the use of MON 810 around the
27-nation bloc, but several EU countries have expressed concern
about its safety, including Austria, Greece and Hungary.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy defended his government's
decision in a speech on Saturday while emphasising he was not
hostile in principle to the development of GMOs.
"(The decision) means simply that when the precautionary
principle is at stake I will make the political choice to put
our country at the front of the debate on the environment," he
said in a speech to a UMP conference.
(Reporting by Nick Antonovics and Nicolas Fichot; editing by