BioWorld International Correspondent
PARIS - Commercial plantings of genetically modified corn have jumped dramatically in France in 2005.
According to information volunteered by farmers to the Ministry of Agriculture, the area being used for GM corn totals 493 hectares this year, compared to just 17 hectares in 2004.
But the real figure could exceed 1,000 hectares, independent observers said, since existing legislation in France does not require farmers to notify the authorities of GM crop plantings.
France has not yet transposed the 2001 European Directive regulating GM crop cultivation into national legislation, so farmers don't have to report GM plantings. Although the European Commission has rapped Paris on the knuckles several times over its failure to transpose that directive, the French authorities have been reluctant because of the fierce opposition of the environmental lobby.
However, the French government plans to introduce a new law into parliament this autumn that will finally transpose the European directive into national legislation. Among other things, the new law will oblige farmers to notify the Ministry of Agriculture and the inter-ministerial Biovigilance Committee of their GM crop plantings, which would facilitate the task of preventing contamination between GM and non-GM crops. In addition, it is expected to lay down rules for the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops and provide for the payment of compensation in the event of contamination.
France has been shown the way by Spain, which introduced a regulatory framework for GM crops this summer that could serve as a model for French legislators. Spain is the only European country that cultivates GM crops on a large scale - some 80,000 hectares of GM corn have been sown there this year - and its regulations require farmers to notify the authorities at least one month before sowing GM crops, to specify the type of gene contained in the crop and to follow strict guidelines for preparing their plantings, monitoring the crops and storing them once harvested.
Among other things, the Spanish regulations stipulate that a 50-meter safety zone should be established between GM fields and other crops and that each field of a GM crop should be surrounded by a buffer zone of four rows of a conventional variety. They also require farmers to delay planting GM crops until conventional crops have been sown to prevent any cross-pollination.
French farmers obtain their GM seed from Spain and they market their production there, as well, since there is considerable resistance to GM crops and foodstuffs in France, not only on the part of environmental activists, but also among consumers. Most of the acreage sown to GM corn in France is thus located in the southwest of the country, close to the border with Spain.
The most common variety of GM corn planted in France is Monsanto Co.'s MON 810, which contains a gene of resistance to the corn borer. Several varieties of genetically modified corn and other crops are authorized throughout the European Union, and can thus be cultivated legally in France. More varieties are awaiting authorization.