PARIS ¿ Government inspectors in France have found that 17 percent of the samples of corn, soya and rapeseeds they examined in the first half of this year contained traces of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), although that is a marked improvement over 2000, when the proportion was 40 percent.
Moreover, the GMO content of the seeds inspected did not exceed 0.2 percent. Although above the legal limit in European Union countries at the moment, that degree of contamination will become legal within two years since the European Commission is planning to alter the regulations to raise the permitted maximum to 1 percent by 2003.
Corn proved to be the most contaminated of the three crops, since 41 percent of the samples were found to contain GMOs (16 out of 39). On the other hand, only one of the 37 samples of rapeseeds and two of the 36 samples of soya seeds were contaminated.
The tests conducted by inspectors from the General Directorate for Competition, Consumption and the Repression of Fraud (DGCCRF) involved looking for a marker indicating the presence of GMOs, after which they sought to identify the modified gene. That proved difficult in half the cases of contaminated corn, and additional tests are being carried out.
At the same time as the DGCCRF released this information, another government body, the French Food Safety Agency, published the results of a study into the possible health risks associated with eating food containing GMOs. Its conclusion was that GMOs are harmless to human health.
Meanwhile, the French government has decided to give private individuals the opportunity to participate in the vetting of field trials of genetically modified crops. Starting this fall, the Biomolecular Engineering Commission, a governmental advisory body responsible for evaluating the risks of disseminating GMOs in the environment, will be required to publish the requests for authorization of GM crop trials on its web site so the public can view the applications, ask questions and express their opinions.
As part of every decision it hands down, the BEC also will have to provide answers to questions of a scientific nature that members of the public raise about the proposed trial. In addition, it will have to post on its web site not only its judgment and the ministerial decision that gives rise to, but also relevant information about the place where the trial is to be conducted.
The complete list of GM crop trial sites can already be consulted on the Ministry of Agriculture web site, where the list of sites authorized for 2001 was published in June. In a statement announcing the new openness being demanded of the BEC, the government appealed to environmental campaigners not to take advantage of its ¿desire for transparency¿ to destroy experimental field crops, as has happened in at least two places in France recently. It is calling for more dialogue and consultation between all sides to ¿forestall illegal acts of this kind.¿