Brussels, 02 Jun 2004
The French government has announced its decision to allow new field trials of genetically modified (GM) sweetcorn in eight test sites across the country.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Rural Affairs, Hervé Gaymard, in a joint statement with the Minister for Ecology, Serge Lepeltier and the deputy Minister for Research, François d'Aubert, explained that the experiments were part of France's regular research programme.
'The field trials are aimed at observing the new strains' behaviour in real conditions' said the statement.
The decision follows an online public consultation carried out between 10 and 24 May. The French government has been allowing GM crop trials for several years, but they regularly prompt demonstrations from opponents to the new technology who are concerned about potential cross-contamination with conventional crops.
Aware of the strong public opinion on the issue, the French state submitted the eight trial requests from Monsanto, Pioneer, Biogemma and French GM research laboratory Geves to consultation before approval. The website received 00 emails, generally giving a negative opinion on the testing.
Green representatives, various regional councils and the anti-GM group, the Confédération paysanne, also voiced their opposition. Despite this, the three ministries have agreed to go ahead and authorise the trials.
The ministry of agriculture insists that, within the framework of the biovigilance plan of action, the entirety of the test sites will be subject to regular inspection by the regional services for plant protection.
'Furthermore', Mr Gaymard added, 'we have asked Brussels for very strict regulations concerning eventual compensation in case of contamination. Otherwise, France will take her own measures.'
The minister, although himself reticent to GM crop trials, has bemoaned the 'obscurantism' and the 'demagogy' of the GM debate in France. Marion Guillou, general director of the French national institute of agronomy research (INRA) echoed that sentiment by stating: 'to a priori close a research avenue like genetic engineering is not a scientific approach. It is presumptuous to say that we will never need GMOs capable of, for example, resisting the excess of salinity in soil or fight certain illnesses'.
The biotech companies involved now hope France will one day align itself with other major agricultural countries such as the US, China, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Spain and soon Germany.
Farmers, however, have announced they would not consider the cultivation of GM crops for another few years.
Indeed, there has been much opposition to GM trials. This has resulted in a massive reduction in the number of applications for GM crop cultivation. In 1996, for example, 90 trials were carried out. In 2003, that number fell to 17 and this year, there will be only eight new field trials of GM crops. Furthermore, none of the applications, this year relate to GM testing for therapeutic purposes. In 2003, anti-GM activists destroyed a field of transgenic sweetcorn planted by Meristem Therapeutics aimed at developing treatments against cystic fibrosis.
In a similar move, Confédération paysanne has announced it would destroy all new trial fields.
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