PARIS - Although the French government remains generally opposed to the cultivation of genetically modified crops in France, farmers have gone on the offensive, arguing that the introduction of genetically modified crops is inevitable, if only because of the need to compete with U.S. producers.

On the eve of the annual congress of France's General Association of Corn Producers last week, its president, Christophe Terrain, called for European countries to accelerate their research effort into GM plants if they did not want to fall even further behind the United States. "Failing that, Europe will not be able to lay claim to any role in the world corn market, which is rapidly becoming an American monopoly."

Producers are pressing for more research because they still are awaiting authorization to produce and market GM crops. "Contrary to what people often say, France does not produce genetically modified corn," Terrain said. "Out of 3 million hectares of cultivable land, barely 2,000 hectares were planted with GM corn last year, and less than 300 hectares today. What is more, France does not import corn."

In that regard, Terrain called for the French government to adopt a more coherent policy. "The government's position in this area has led to an untenable situation," he said. "On the one hand, it condemns de facto the production of GM corn on French soil by French producers, and on the other it authorizes the import of foodstuffs based on American corn, which is known to be 30 percent GM."

As for consumers, Terrain said they did not understand the real issue. "Consumers are right to be demanding, but in the area of GMOs they are undoubtedly ill-informed. They muddle everything up: contaminated blood, mad cow disease, dioxin, animal feed."

For Terrain, biotechnology offers a middle way for the future of agriculture. "Between a 100 percent industrial agriculture and another completely organic, our conviction is unshakable: GMOs are a very promising answer to the problems of health and the environment for the coming century, within the framework of a modern, intelligent and sensible agriculture. ... This is an inescapable technological development."