January 16, 2018 / 5:08 PM / 3 years ago

French seed group says GMO protests could force R&D relocation

PARIS, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Limagrain, the world’s fourth-largest seed maker, will consider moving its research activities out of France if field trials in its home market continue to be sabotaged by opponents of genetically modified crops.

The French cooperative group was targeted last month by protestors who invaded test fields southeast of Paris and scattered non-commercial seed. That was the latest in a series of actions by opponents of gene-editing technology, which they say will herald a new generation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Limagrain said the incident ruined a 37-hectare trial of wheat based on conventional breeding and showed the risk of a repeat of virulent debate over GMOs.

“If we have repetition of this kind of problem, I will be the first to say that we should relocate our research and not conduct it in France,” Jean-Yves Foucault, Limagrain president and one of the farmers who own the cooperative group, told reporters.

Limagrain, which is a major seed maker through listed subsidiary Vilmorin, previously stopped performing GMO field trials in France, where commercial growing of such crops is banned.

The emergence of new breeding techniques has reignited debate over genetic modification in Europe.

So-called gene-editing has been hailed by researchers as a revolutionary tool but has led to fierce arguments over whether gene-edited crops should be treated as GMOs.

Crop developers say such crops should not fall under the European Union’s strict GMO rules because the new technology does not involve the transfer of genes from different species. Critics, meanwhile, say they are GMOs by another name.

The EU has yet to decide how to classify the new techniques.

On Thursday the adviser to the European Court of Justice is due to issue an opinion over whether a breeding method called mutagenesis should fall under GMO regulations.

This would give an indication of the likely ruling to be given by the court in the coming months, which will in turn influence subsequent EU rules on gene-editing.

Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel in Brussels; Editing by David Goodman

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