PARIS France's highest court on Monday overturned France's ban on growing a strain of genetically modified maize (corn) developed by U.S. biotech firm Monsanto, saying it was not sufficiently justified.
The decision follows a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in early September saying France had based its decision to impose a moratorium on the growing of Monsanto's insect-resistant MON810 maize on the wrong EU legislation.
Suspension or banning measures ought to be taken at European Union level unless a member state can demonstrate a potentially serious risk to human or animal health or the environment, the courts said.
"Drawing on the consequences of the ECJ's ruling, the State Council finds that the agriculture ministry could not justify its authority to issue the decrees, failing to give proof of the existence of a particularly high level of risk for the health and the environment," the highest French court said.
The French agriculture ministry declined to comment.
Monsanto told Reuters the news of the court decision was "welcome support for a science and evidence based approach to GM crop policy in the EU."
Genetically modified organism (GMO) crops are widely used in countries such as the United States and Brazil.
But France, the EU's largest grain producer whose citizens are among the staunchest biotech skeptics, banned growing of such crops in 2008 after protests by local green groups, citing a "serious risk to the environment."
In September, in reaction to the European court of Justice's ruling, France had said its embargo on MON810 maize was still valid and that it would restart a procedure if needed.
Greenpeace said action was needed before the next sowings.
"The State Coucil decision annuls de facto France's moratorium on MON810 maize cultivation: if the government does not act, by imposing a new ban, we risk to see GMO reappear in our fields as soon as next spring," Greenpeace France head Sylvain Tardy said.
Six other EU countries -- Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg -- have similar safeguard clauses against GMO maize in place.
Having tried and failed to force several EU countries to lift their cultivation bans, last year the Commission proposed letting member states decide themselves whether to grow or ban GMO crop cultivation.
Under European Union law, only two GMO varieties are approved for cultivation.