By James Etheridge

BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS ¿ An advisory body to France¿s General Planning Board (the government¿s economic planning department) recommended that the government authorize the cultivation of all types of genetically modified crops, and not just for experimental purposes.

Chaired by Bernard Chevassus-au-Louis, research director of the National Institute for Agronomic Research and chairman of the French Food Safety Agency, the committee advocates the ¿gradual and sensible¿ development of field trials of all GM crops and a progressive transition from experimental to commercial cultivation. This is tantamount to calling for the lifting of the current European moratorium, which bans the commercial cultivation of all GM crops except one variety of corn.

The committee argued that the lack of scientific knowledge about the possible consequences of cultivating GM crops is a reason for conducting more trials rather than the contrary.

¿We have to recognize the limits of science, which cannot yet predict the long-term effects of the large-scale use of GMOs on the population at large,¿ the report says. ¿But it is not because science is fallible that all innovation should be banned.¿ What needs to be done is ¿immediately establish the responsibilities¿ of the different parties concerned in the event of future problems and ensure a ¿peaceful cohabitation¿ between GM and conventional crops.

A progressive expansion of GM crop cultivation would require the government to ¿decide to develop certain types of crops in certain areas,¿ the report says. At the same time, it recommends the creation of a GM Observatory to systematically monitor all trials, providing the same degree of vigilance as is currently applied to medicines. Hence, not only would the effects of GM crops be evaluated before they are put on the market, but their effects on human health also would continue to be monitored once in commercial use.

The committee¿s recommendations prompted predictable reactions from environmental and consumer protection groups. Six such organizations that were represented on the committee voiced their ¿deep disagreement¿ with the report¿s conclusions, regretting that it was so favorable to GMOs and maintaining that it did not fairly reflect all the points of view expressed during the committee¿s deliberations.

As for the seed producers, they were not entirely satisfied, either. Their industry association argued that the report did not ¿sufficiently highlight the challenges of GMOs for the agricultural sector¿ and urged the authorities ¿to take a clear stand on the future of GMOs and the means for ending the moratorium.¿