Top French court lifts ban on growing Monsanto GM corn

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L'interdiction de cultiver le maïs MON810 de Mosanto suspendue

Un épi de maïs © AFP/Archives Philippe Huguen

PARIS – (AFP) – A wrangle over growing genetically modified crops in France flared anew on Thursday as the country’s top administrative court overturned a government ban on growing GM corn sold by the US giant Monsanto.

In the second legal setback to French restrictions on MON810 corn in five years, the Council of State court said a moratorium imposed on the product since March 2012 failed to uphold European Union law.

Under EU rules, such a ban “can only be taken by a member state in case of an emergency or if a situation poses a major risk” to people, animals or the environment, it said.

This argument was not supported in the use of an emergency provision in EU legislation known as a safeguard clause, it said.

The ban was imposed after a previous moratorium, set in March 2008, was annulled by the same court in November 2011.

In a joint statement, Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll and Ecology Minister Philippe Martin announced the authorities would take a fresh decision on MON810 before the next sowing season in April 2014.

But they hinted that further moves against the corn lay ahead.

They “take note of the ruling and recall the government’s undertaking… to maintain the moratorium on growing GM crops to prevent economic and environmental risks for other crops and bee-keeping,” the statement said.

It added that the ministries would work on new directions to meet those preventive goals.

MON810 includes an inserted gene that makes the corn plant exude a natural toxin that is poisonous to insect pests. This offers a potential financial gain for farmers, as they do not have to use chemical pesticides.

Green groups say that GM crops are potentially dangerous and should be outlawed as a precaution.

Scientists, though, have generally found no major problems with the first generation of these crops, of which MON810 is one.

It has been okayed for farmers in many big grain-growing countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China, but has run headlong into problems in Europe.

Brussels cleared MON810 in 1998 for 10 years and Monsanto submitted a request in 2007 for it to be extended but the process has been effectively frozen since then.

In the meantime, MON810 is grown only on a small scale, notably in Spain and Portugal. Other countries that have adopted provisions allowing them to block cultivation of GM crops on their territory include Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg and Poland.

Monsanto insists that fears about GM products are groundless and that they are in fact essential if growing global demand for food is to be met.

Among the reactions to Thursday’s ruling, Greenpeace called on the authorities to reintroduce the ban.

MON810 encouraged the emergence of pesticide-resistant insects, it said, questioning also whether corn played a part in the worrying decline of Europe’s bees.

The Small Farmers Confederation (Confederation Paysanne) said a fresh ban would “send a strong signal” to the United States — currently negotiating a free-trade pact with the EU — that France defended small-scale, environmentally friendly farming rather than “multinational lobbies.”

MON810 is one of just two types of genetically engineered crops approved by the EU.

The other is BASF’s Amflora potato, but the German conglomerate has stopped producing it in the EU. Europe also allows the imports of some GM products for animal feed.

In July, Monsanto announced it was giving up seeking approval for new biotech crops in Europe, and instead would focus on its conventional seeds business there.

© AFP

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