PARIS (Reuters) - Fresh attacks on Monsanto’s French test sites for genetically modified (GMO) maize (MON.N) have not put it off research in France, the U.S. biotech giant said on Wednesday.
In recent years, biotech firms given the green light to carry out GMO tests in France have done so under threat that protesters may trample fields and wreck months of research.
This pushed Bayer CropScience (BAYE.BO) to end field tests in France in 2004 and has prompted fears among scientists that others may shift at least part of their research efforts abroad.
Still, Missouri-based Monsanto, creator of the only GMO technology currently in commercial use in France, a corn called YieldGard MON-810, remains committed to field trials.
“Monsanto wishes to continue its research in biotechnology and its field trials in France despite illegal destructions because the best adapted varieties for farmers’ specific needs are created at the local level,” said Jean-Michel Duhamel, Monsanto’s director for southern Europe.
“As the sharp rise in prices of raw food in France shows that an abundance of food cannot be taken for granted anymore, it is necessary to develop all tools to strengthen efficiency and sustainability of agriculture including biotechs,” he said.
Monsanto has issued two separate complaints against protesters this month following attacks on GMO test sites that it says caused losses totaling 100,000 euros ($135,900).
In 2004, 45 percent of all Monsanto’s field trials on GMO seeds suffered damage from activists. In 2005, 55 percent suffered such damage and in 2006, 65 percent did.
Heated debate has surrounded the use of GMO products across Europe and in France, a country which takes special pride in the quality of its food and where many consumers and green groups doubt the safety of GMO products.
While GMO technologies are more widely used in the United States, analysts say it could take years before such solutions are welcome with open arms in Europe.
Monsanto said it derives around 50 percent of its revenues in France from the sale of herbicides and most of the remainder from sales of conventional, non-biotech seeds.
While the number of hectares sown with maize incorporating Monsanto’s MON-810 technology has swelled to more than 20,000 hectares this season from 5,000 in 2006, GMO-derived business accounts for less than one percent of its turnover in France.
Monsanto has given about eight seed companies the right to use its MON-810 technology in France.
This season around 40 percent of the area sown with GMO maize was directly using Monsanto seeds. The other 60 percent was made up of maize produced by French firms or cooperatives which have negotiated the right to use Monsanto’s technology.