PARIS - The French government has ordered the destruction of 46 hectares of soybean containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) planted on seven farms in the south of the country.

The affected farmers will be compensated out of public funds. According to the subdirector for quality and production at the Ministry of Agriculture, Alain Verned, they purchased their seed from a cooperative that had obtained them ''in all good faith'' from producers in the United States.

The government has been accused of inconsistency in its policy after deciding at the end of May that 600 hectares of GM-contaminated oilseed rape should be destroyed, but in July refusing to require farmers to uproot corn that contained some unauthorized GMOs. It insisted that the proportion of GMOs contained in the seed was very low and thus presented no risk to either the environment or to public health. In the case of the soybean, the GMO content ranged from 0.8 percent to 1.5 percent, significantly above the 0.5 percent tolerance threshold laid down by the European Commission.

That said, the main factor in this latest decision is the regulatory differentiation made in France between transgenic corn, whose cultivation is authorized, and transgenic soya, which cannot be grown. Hence, the secretary of state for consumption, Marilyse Lebranchu, justified the decision by pointing out that "unlike certain varieties of corn, the use of GMOs in the cultivation of soybean and oilseed rape is completely forbidden in France because these are seeds that can easily be crossed and GMOs can thus be multiplied and spread out of control.''

Officials also stressed that since the contaminated crops were not due to be harvested until September, there was no danger of their entering the food chain. Ecologists in France, led by the Green party, welcomed this application of the principle of precaution, but are continuing to call for the GM-contaminated corn crops to be destroyed. The party has called on the French government to use its presidency of the European Union (for the six months ending Dec. 31) to ''tighten the regulations in force in the direction of greater vigilance."

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