Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | February 6, 2008

Consumers in France reject genetically modified crops ahead of French parliament vote

According to two surveys, two thirds of people in France do not want any more genetically modified foods on their plates, and they overwhelmingly call for the suspension of corn MON810, produced by Monsanto. Tomorrow, the bill concerning France’s policy on genetically altered crops arrives for debate in the Senate.

According to a survey by the French Ministry for Ecology, 77 % approve the decision of the government to suspend the marketing from the MON810, the only genetically modified corn cultivated in France.

72 % of the French in the survey consider it “important” to be able to consume products without genetically modified organisms (GMO). 71 % would require that a product labeled “without GMO” absolutely not contain any trace of any genetically modified elements (labeling in France is not obligatory today for products containing less than 0.9 % of GMO).

These two surveys undoubtedly will encourage ecological organizations, worried about the return in strength of pro-GMO lobbies.

The conflict has become very heated on both sides, with environmental activists launching hunger strikes and ripping up crops, and officials siding with the pro-GMO lobbies in France decrying the blight on progress and the economy that they say a ban would produce.

Contacted yesterday, the Minister for Ecology, Jean-Louis Borloo, invited everyone in France to return to calm and to stick to the compromises obtained at the Grenelle conference on this subject. The minister pointed out that the funds granted to biotechnology research in France will be multiplied eightfold this year.

“The president will assure that engagements of Grenelle are respected,” he said in the Elysee palace. “If the Parliament once again calls into question the transparency of the growing of genetically modified crops, responsibility in the event of contamination and the principles guaranteeing people the right to produce crops and consume foods that are GMO-free, the government will oppose it.”

Some European Union officials as well as those in France remain cautious about using products that could endanger insects and fish and upset delicate ecosystems. But others have called to ease restrictions on altered seeds as a way of keeping farming in France and Europe globally competitive at a time of skyrocketing food prices.

The European agriculture commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, warned farm ministers in November that Europe’s resistance to importing genetically modified products like livestock feed was contributing to the rising cost of raising pigs and chickens and could pose a threat to the meat industry.

France – the EU’s biggest agricultural producer – is the sixth government in Europe to ban genetic engineered crops. (Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Poland are the other five.) The only genetically engineered crop currently grown in France is Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn (MON810).

Genetically modified corn is already imported from outside Europe into several EU countries, including France and Germany, where it is used to feed animals like cows and chickens. But only one genetically modified crop is currently grown in Europe, a form of corn produced by Monsanto and nine other companies called Mon 810.

In October 2007 President of France Nicolas Sarkozy called for an environmental “revolution” in France. Among other measures, he promised to outlaw energy wasting light bulbs by 2010, ban commercial growing of genetically modified food and feed crops, and use a principle of taking extra precautions for all future French government decisions concerning the environment.

The initiatives were announced after the conclusion of the Grenelle de l’environment negotiations. The Grenelle (a word that comes from the students’ revolution in Paris in May ‘68) was a set of conversations among government, industry, environmental groups and unions.

At the time, Sarkozy cited three good reasons to avoid growing genetically engineered crops: Doubts about their usefulness, doubts about their effects on health and the environment, and worries about their uncontrolled dissemination.
But Sarkozy disappointed supporters of a long-term ban by announcing only a temporary freeze on genetically modified seeds pending the outcome of a review of the technology that was expected on 9 Feb 2008.

The National Assembly in France was to debate extending the ban in the days before the outcome of the review. Meanwhile, French anti-globalization activist Jose Bove began a much-publicized hunger strike, declaring on Jan 3 that he would not eat again until the government imposed a year-long ban on GM crops.

But 8 days later, Bove and about 15 supporters called off their hunger strike after the government ordered the suspension of the use of genetically modified corn. France will suspend cultivation of MON810, the seed for the only type of genetically modified corn now allowed in France, until a pan-European Union review is conducted, Prime Minister Francois Fillon’s office said.

The move was based on a recommendation this week by the French government-appointed panel that reviewed the technology and called for “the need for additional analyses on the health and environmental effects of the genetically modified product MON810 in the long term,” Fillon’s office said in a statement.

Jose Bove and his supporters in France began the Jan 3 hunger strike saying they hoped to pressure the French government to make good on its promise in November to suspend cultivation of MON810. He said they only drank water or unsweetened tea during the protest. Bove rose to fame in August 1999 when he and supporters used farm equipment to dismantle a McDonald’s branch under construction in Millau, in the foothills of France’s Massif Central Mountains, to protest the influence of multinational corporations. He has faced repeated trials and served jail time in France for destroying genetically modified crops.

MON 810 corn seed, which resists some types of insects, was authorized in France before a government-ordered moratorium on genetically modified products took effect in 1999.

In the United States, almost all crops are now genetically modified and debate is mostly closed. But in France and the rest of Europe, with its increasing green consciousness and strong agricultural traditions, the genetically modified crop issue remains extremely controversial. The bloc remains largely free of GM crops while promising further scientific environmental and safety studies, as allowed by EU law and World Trade Organization rules.

GM crops cover less than one percent of farmland in France, Europe’s top agricultural producer. Last year, MON810 was planted in about 54,000 acres in France — mainly in southern farmland.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace has just launched a petition requiring French senators to vote tomorrow in favor of what the citizens want. “We want to believe that the majority of the senators are not bound by the biotechnology lobbies but are committed to defend the general interest and the very explicit will of the citizens on this subject”, Greenpeace underlines, citing the surveys showing three-quarters of the public in France against genetically altered crops and demanding explicit food labeling. The Greenpeace organization will exert public pressure by publishing the names of French National assembly officials favorable to GMO, giving out mock bronze, silver and gold “Monsanto medals”.




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