BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - Opponents of field trials of genetically modified crops in France are becoming increasingly militant, mounting a growing number of nighttime raids to destroy GM crops.

The destruction of several fields of GM corn and oilseed rape this summer has led some companies and research establishments to consider abandoning ongoing research programs or shifting trials to the United States.

They resent in particular the fact that they have played the transparency card by identifying the locations of their GM crop plantings and holding public meetings to inform local residents of their projects, which has made it that much easier for environmental activists to organize their attacks.

After the destruction of one of its main GM field trials the night of July 10-11, Paris-based Biogemma, a consortium of French seed and agro-chemical companies, issued a statement saying it was thinking of moving its GM crop trials to the U.S. The president of the company's executive committee, Daniel Chérin, declared that "it is no longer possible to conduct a plant improvement program quietly in France."

The destroyed crop was one of six GM field trials Biogemma was authorized to conduct in France this year. The company is seeking to develop genetically modified plants that are inherently resistant to an insect that attacks the roots of corn and has severely diminished harvests in central Europe. Experts expect this insect to become widespread in France in five to eight years, and Biogemma aims to offer farmers a "quality biotechnology solution as an alternative to the use of chemical insecticides."

However, Chérin said, "all this work . . . was destroyed in a few minutes. Since 2001, five of Biogemma's trials have been wrecked. Our researchers are discouraged at seeing their research, some of which requires 10 years' work, wiped out in a few minutes by opponents of GMOs." And he lamented the fact that "the more information we have provided, the easier it has been to wreck our sites."

If this situation persists, he went on, "we will be forced to withdraw to the United States, which would have dramatic consequences for the research and competitiveness of French agriculture." He called on the government to take steps to protect fields of GM crops that were under threat.

Altogether, the French Ministry of Agriculture approved 14 applications for field trials of GM crops in 2003, bringing to nearly 20,000 square meters the total area of authorized GM crop plantings for experimental purposes in France.