March 20, 2007 / 12:36 PM / in 12 years

France adopts disputed EU laws on GMO crop growing

PARIS (Reuters) - France said on Tuesday it had brought its national legislation into line with European Union laws on growing genetically modified (GMO) crops, hoping to end a legal battle with Europe’s top court.

The French farm ministry said in a statement it was publishing in the official journal the two main decrees converting into French law the European directive on GMO commercial and experimental crops.

The directive, agreed by EU governments in 2001, regulates how GMO crops may be grown and approved across the bloc.

It covers the cultivation of GMO seeds for crop or seed production and also includes imports of GMOs from other countries and their processing for industrial purposes.

In December last year the European Commission asked the Court of Justice (ECJ) to fine France for its failure to integrate the directive on the environmental release of GMOs.

The amount was based on a daily calculation for non-compliance since an initial ECJ ruling in July 2004, and has now grown to over 42 million euros, ministry officials said.

“We’re still at risk from this fine but hope it will now stop growing. We’ll have to see what the court will decide,” a French farm ministry official said, adding that a separate daily fine of 366,744 euros was likely to be dropped.

French consumers are well known for their skepticism, if not hostility, to GMO crops, often dubbed “Frankenstein foods.” The biotech industry insists its products are perfectly safe.

MORE FIELDS DESTROYED

France has only approved one type of GMO crop, the “MON 810” maize produced by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto MON.N, to be cultivated for commercial purposes.

In 2006, around 5,200 hectares were grown with the maize, which has been modified to resist certain insect pests, the French maize growers association AGPM said.

That is only a minor part of the total grain sowings in France which account for more than nine million hectares, including 1.8 million hectares of maize.

Under the new rules, farmers will be obliged to give precise details on their GMO sowings, which should enable France to create a national register of all GMO crops in the country, including their number, surface and location, it added.

The register will be available on the Internet.

Maize producers stressed the register would not give a precise location for the GMO locations in a bid to stop farmers having their fields destroyed by protesters in what has become a common practice in France.

“For us it was important that the name of (GMO-growing) farmers and villages should remain confidential to avoid new ransacking,” Luc Esprit, director general of France’s maize producers group AGPM, told Reuters.

But a spokeswoman for France’s anti-GMO lobby said her fellow activists would continue destroying GMO fields to oppose the growing of the crops for commercial and experimental use.

“France has listened to the EU, we now ask it to listen to French citizens who massively reject GMOs,” she said.

“In the meantime we’ll continue symbolic actions. We’ll be even more determined.”

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