PARIS A study last month pointing to health risks from a type of genetically modified maize and a related pesticide did not provide grounds for questioning previous safety approvals, the French government said on Monday.
The study by researchers at the University of Caen said rats fed on Monsanto's NK603 GM maize (corn) or exposed to the company's top-selling Roundup weed killer were at higher risk of suffering tumors, multiple organ damage and premature death.
The research reignited controversy over GM food in France, where the biotechnology is unpopular and growing of GM crops is banned, and led the government to raise the possibility of a freeze on EU imports of the NK603 corn.
The government requested the opinion of health agency ANSES and biotechnology advisory council HCB, and in their conclusions released on Monday both bodies said the University of Caen study did not demonstrate the toxicity of the Monsanto products.
"On this basis, there is therefore no need to go back on the authorizations issued for the NK603 maize and the Roundup weed killer," the French farm, environment and health ministries said in a joint statement.
The scientific opinions of the French experts went along with those of EU food safety watchdog EFSA and a number of scientists in France and elsewhere who said the University of Caen paper was flawed and provided insufficient evidence.
However, ANSES said the Caen study had raised the issue of longer-term risks linked to GM food and called for more publicly funded research into the question.
The Caen researchers argued that their lifetime testing of rats were more pertinent than the 90-day feeding trials that form the basis of GM crop approvals, since three months is only the equivalent of early adulthood in rats.
The French government reiterated a call for an overhaul of EU procedures for approving GM varieties and pesticides, and also reaffirmed its ban on growing GM crops.
The unpopularity of GM food in Europe has repeatedly held up their approval at EU level and only one GM crop, Monsanto's MON 810 maize, is currently grown on a commercial scale in Europe.
However, the bloc imports millions of tonnes of GM corn and soybeans each year from major growers including the United States, Argentina and Brazil to help feed the EU's livestock.
In the latest example, the EU's executive has just authorized the import of Syngenta's MIR 162 maize.
(Reporting by Marion Douet and Gus Trompiz; editing by Keiron Henderson)