PARIS Genetically modified maize is unlikely to make it into French fields next year despite the lifting this week of a ban on a U.S. strain, as evidence rises that France will launch new restrictions, observers said on Tuesday.
"The French government keeps and will keep its opposition against the cultivation of the Monsanto 810 maize on our soil," Sarkozy said during a visit in southwestern France.
France's State Council justified its decision on Monday to annul the ban saying that the government did not give enough evidence to justify it, knowing that an EU country can only unilaterally ban a GMO if it can scientifically prove its risk for human or animal health or the environment.
Sarkozy, who will face re-election in April although he has not made his candidacy official, said Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire were working to implement a new ban on Monsanto's MON810 that would be based on scientific elements.
While GMOs are widely used in major farm producing countries such as the United States or Brazil, they are unpopular in many European states, with France one of the most outspoken against what some have termed "Frankenstein foods."
Even if maize growers are mostly in favor of GMOs which they say will protect their crops against pests and adverse weather and boost their yields, this political uncertainty should prompt them to hold off planting.
"Now that the government says it will put all its energy in putting a new ban, we can forget about sowings next spring," maize growers group AGPM chairman Christophe Terrain told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in Paris.
ALREADY IN FRENCH FOOD
Farmers generally buy their maize seeds by February to sow in April, which leaves them little time to be reassured on the future of GMO maize.
"Farmers are very prudent people. They will not grow something they are not sure they will be able to sell," said Patrice Gollier, chief executive of French farm cooperative giant Invivo.
Pierre Pagesse, chairman of Limagrain, the world's fourth largest seed supplier through its subsidiary Vilmorin, said that even if French growers wanted to sow GMO maize next season they would have a hard time finding seeds developed for European conditions due to scant local research.
"They would not find, even in the United States, varieties adapted to Europe to do so," he said, stressing that developing new crop strains took decades.
Europe's top farm researcher INRA said last year it had abandoned work on GMOs due to widespread distrust and even hostility by European consumers.
Pagesse also stressed how French people were opposed to GMOs but at the same time had no problem eating meat from animals fed mostly, if not only, with genetically modified grains.
"Today we already find this technology in our food, if not directly in human food, in feed for animals that end up on our plate," he said.
Most of the maize and soybean imported for animal feed into the European Union is genetically modified.
(Additional reporting by Yann Le Guernigou)