BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - France faces big fines for failing to implement European Union biotechnology law.

EU officials have asked the European court of justice to impose fines of €168,800 (US$202,000) a day until France brings its national law into line with the basic 1990 directive on containment of biotech research.

Despite an earlier court ruling against it, and subsequent warnings from the commission, France still has only partially given effect to the law on safe handling of genetically modified microorganisms, which was introduced to protect the environment and human health against potential dangers of research and industrial activities. In particular, France has not put in place measures to ensure emergency plans for local populations.

The case - which will be heard by the court in the coming months - is seen by analysts as indicative of a more robust European Union approach to national governments that backslide on creating the right conditions for biotechnology.

But Austria - currently the chair of the European Union - hit a discordant note at the end of January when it banned Monsanto's GM oilseed rape, GT73, citing genetic contamination risks and inadequate risk assessment. All that despite the granting of a European authorization in August.

That brings to 12 the national bans in the EU, affecting seven GM foods or crops, including Syngenta's Bt176 maize, Bayer's oilseed rape Topas and T25 maize, and Monsanto's MON810 maize. In addition, 172 EU regions and 4,500 local authorities have declared themselves "GMO-free."

More Support Urged For Biotech Research

The latest European call for biotechnology research support might stand a better chance of being heard than some of its predecessors, because it comes from a report commissioned by the leaders of the 25 European Union member states.

The recommendation - from a panel of eminent European economists - was published Jan. 26 and puts biotechnologies and genomics at the top of the list of areas in which "Europe needs to invest today, so as not to face a gap." It also urges backing for nanotechnologies and for cognitive and neurosciences.

The findings of the report will be on the agenda for EU leaders at their next summit in March, at which they will focus on boosting European research, innovation and growth.

Among its key messages, it urges an innovation-friendly market for European pharmaceutical businesses, with action on intellectual property and increased resources for science and industrial R&D, and with an independent high-level coordinator appointed to see that political promises turn into action.

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