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French Ban on Genetically Modified Corn Loses Another Round

Seeds of controversy. France wants to ban planting of genetically modified versions of these corn kernels.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

PARIS—The French government has lost the latest round in its battle to maintain a ban on growing genetically-modified (GM) corn in France, but the new ruling is not the end of the story.

France's Council of State, which advises the government on legal issues and is the nation's highest administrative court of appeal, today upheld a September European Court of Justice ruling that found that France's 2008 prohibition against Monsanto's MON810 variety was out of line on procedural grounds. The council ruled that France's agriculture minister "has not provided the proof (that the corn) presents a major risk to human or animal health, or to the environment."

After the ruling, agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire told journalists at the National Assembly that the government would still look "at all ways of not cultivating Monsanto corn," because "there are still too many uncertainties on the consequences for the environment." Le Maire added that the office of Prime Minister François Fillon today held an initial technical meeting on the issue.

The Council "has not banned [the principle of imposing] a ban," environmental lawyer Arnaud Gossement told the French news agency Agence France Presse. "It simply says that this must be done according to a different procedure, with a better framed question and a better substantiated decision."

If the government does not introduce a new ban, the corn "could reappear in our fields next spring," Sylvain Tardy of Greenpeace France told the French news Web site He questioned whether French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who will probably run for reelection next year, would support planting when the "great majority of French people are opposed to the presence of GMOs [genetically-modified organisms] in our fields and in our plates."

MON810 is one of two commercially grown GM crops in Europe, where transgenic food remains very controversial. Under current E.U. rules, authorization for GM crops occurs at the continental level, after a health and environmental safety assessment by the European Food Safety Agency in Parma, Italy.

The European Commission has proposed changing that system so that each country can decide on its own to "opt out" of transgenic crops. Meanwhile, France and several other countries have used a "safeguard clause" in the current law to ban the cultivation of approved GM crops.