PARIS, May 20 (Reuters) - French legislators passed a bill on genetically modified crops on Tuesday, after blocking the same text by a single vote last week in what had been an embarrassment for President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The bill, which will regulate the cultivation of GM crops in France, passed by 289 to 221 after the ruling right wing UMP party achieved an almost unified front along with centrists.
Last week, the right had been split and many deputies were absent for the vote on the bill, a thorny issue which stirs strong passions in France.
At one point on Tuesday, clerks had to intervene to stop deputies coming to blows. Pro-GM members see the bill as too restrictive and opponents call it overly lax.
France is the European Union’s main agricultural power and its largest exporter of farm products. The bill has drawn criticism from a wide spectrum of interest groups on both sides.
France’s upper house of Parliament, held by a UMP majority, will examine the bill on Thursday and still has to approve it before it becomes law.
Opposition Socialists, left-wing parties, and environmental campaigners oppose the bill, which they say is too favourable to the interests of biotech companies such as U.S. giant Monsanto.
Environmentalists say it blurs the line between natural and GM foods to the detriment of farmers and consumers, while advocates of GM crops say it does not go far enough in protecting biotech companies from sabotage.
Opinion polls show a vast majority of French people are opposed to GM crops because they have not seen enough proof that such crops pose no risk to consumers and the environment. (Writing by Brian Rohan; Editing by Charles Dick)