BioWorld International Correspondent
PARIS - France has suspended the cultivation of genetically modified corn, which means Monsanto's MON 810 corn, the only GM corn containing a pesticide that was authorized for commercial cultivation in the country.
The decision was taken on advice submitted to French President Nicolas Sarkozy by the chairman of France's recently created High Authority on Genetically Modified Organisms, Jean-François Le Grand. He expressed "serious doubts" about the safety of MON 810 on the grounds that the High Authority had come up with adverse "new scientific facts" suggesting there were several risks associated with MON 810, especially the contamination of other crops.
"The initial studies of MON 810 referred to dissemination over a few hundred meters," explained Le Grand. "In fact, more recent research in Canada shows that dissemination can occur over more than a hundred kilometers." He concluded, therefore, that there was a significant risk of other plants being contaminated.
The day after he submitted his report, however, 14 members of the High Authority on GMOs (12 of the 15 members of its scientific committee and two members of its economic, ethical and social section) issued a statement distancing themselves from Le Grand, claiming that the opinion they had drafted made no mention of "serious doubts" about MON 810 and did not describe the new scientific facts as "negative." In particular, they said they were "uncomfortable about the discrepancy between the opinion they drafted and its transcription." (See article, below.)
Le Grand had advised the government to apply the precautionary principle and invoke the "safeguard clause" which empowers it to impose a moratorium on the planting of MON 810 pending a decision by the European Commission. And the government followed his advice, despite the fact that he was disowned by many members of the body he presides.
The leading farmers' union, the FNSEA, described the decision as "pathetic." It had disputed the views expressed by Le Grand and pointed out that cattle in France have been fed with imported GM soya for years and that French consumers also ate imported foodstuffs containing GMOs.
French farmers planted some 22,000 hectares of MON 810 corn in 2007, but it will be illegal for them to cultivate GM corn this year.
The French government is due to introduce legislation on GMOs into parliament shortly to fill a void that has existed for years and transpose European biotechnology directives rather belatedly into French law.