Anti-GM activity in France during 2004
2004 was a busy year in France for those involved in campaigning against GM crops. There has been much action at both local and national level, as well as overtly and covertly in the fields, to keep GM crops and GM food out of the food chain. This report provides a brief summary of some of the main events of the year.
Despite widespread opposition, there have been 61 field tests of GM crops in 13 départements throughout France during 2004.
Just as in UK, the French Ministry of Agriculture emphasises that the crops are “safe”, despite the absence of any evidence to prove their safety.
On 28 April 2004 the Confédération Paysanne (“Peasants’ Confederation”) demanded that open field tests be stopped and called for a national day of oppoistion to GM to take place on 8 May.
In response, Hervé Gaymard, the Minister of Agriculture, announced on 1 June that the open field trials would continue.
The Year of the “Volunteer Reaper”
The following day (2 June) activists responded in a symbolic action, destroying a crop of GM rapeseed growing near Toulouse. At the same time, the collective responsible for the action contacted the councils of the 13 areas which would be affected by GM trials, to ask that they pass local bylaws banning such trials.
July and August saw a number of further actions, including 160 “volunteer reapers” destroying a field of GM maize near Pithiviers (department of Loiret). Demonstrators included Yves Contassot (assistant to the mayor of Paris, with responsibility for the environment) and Francine Bavay (Vice President of the regional council for the d'Ile-de-France region).
The “fake persuaders” made a brief appearance in France during August when Pierre Pagesse, a farmer and managing director of the biotechnology firm Biogemma, claimed to have established a group of grass-roots supporters for GM technology.
Further investigation has shown that no such group exists...
The Raffarin Government shows its true face
The demonstration on the 25 September in the Vienne marked a turning point for anti-GM campaigners in France, who had previously been used to a “softly softly” approach from law enforcement officers. Police used tear gas and stun grenades against the group of 500 demonstrators, leading to a number of people being injured. It seems that the police had been briefed to come down hard on demonstrators.
Speaking after the demonstration, José Bové of the Confédération Paysanne stated that Prime Minister Raffarin’s government had shown its true face in wanting to impose GM crops and the rule of the multinationals. Bové suggested that anti-GM actions could no longer take place in public during the day and should therefore happen under cover of darkness.
The effectiveness of this advice was proven on 3 October when thirty volunteer reapers decontaminated an experimental field of GM maize in Varois-et Chaignot near Dijon, an action which avoided the attention of police by being carried out at night.
A number of people arrested during 2004 actions are still awaiting trial. The latest information on the forthcoming trials can be found on the website of the Confédération Paysanne:
The Government and Public “Consultation”
In contrast to previous years, the French Government has been more overt in its support of GM and the biotech industry. A statement issued by the Minister of Agriculture, following the destruction of crop trials in August and September, said:
“Research on biotechnologies offers great potential for health, human food and the environment”
This despite the overwhelming rejection of GM food and GM crops by the French public and the absence of independent safety testing by any French scientific or governmental organisation. The body responsible for providing opinions on GM is the Commission du Génie Biomoléculaire (CGB):
The CGB, much like its British equivalent, the ACNFP, is packed full of individuals who make their living from the biotech industry and from research into genetic modification. Its decisions on GM issues during 2004 can be found here:
Two public “consultations” were carried out by the Government during the year, from 10-24 May and from 27 July to 10 August. Yet, within a few days of the May “consultation” being carried out the government had already announced on 1 June that 8 new field tests had been approved for 2004.
The July/August 2004 “consultation” showed that out of 673 items of correspondance received, fewer than 10% were in favour of GM field tests and around 70% opposed to open field tests. In these results, despite the much smaller sample size, there are certainly clear parallels with the outcome of the UK’s “GM Public Debate”.
At a local level, some 3000 mayors have signed declarations assuring GM-free status for their towns and villages.
Retailers and the Carrefour question
French retailers have, like their British counterparts, been very careful to avoid GM ingredients in their products. Between 1999 and 2004 no French supermarket had dared to stock any product containing GM ingredients.
However, on 26 November “Nature et ProgrÃ¨s”, the French equivalent of the Soil Association, announced that it had found cooking oil containing GM soya oil on sale at french-owned supermarket Carrefour, in Belgium.
Significantly, Carrefour was one of the first supermarkets to remove food containing GM ingredients, as far back as 1999.
The apparent move to reintroduce GM ingredients after 5 years of absence sparked a call to action amongst campaigners.
“Nature et ProgrÃ¨s” has called for a boycott of Carrefour for as long as they continue to stock GM-contaminated products. On 18 December a demonstration was held in Brussels to alert consumers to this attempt to re-introduce GM ingredients. Campaigners are now waiting for a response from Carrefour and an assurance that the GM contamination will be removed.
On 8 December, Greenpeace France launched its latest “Guide des produits avec ou sans OGM”, the equivalent of the UK’s “Shopper’s Guide to GM”. This provides a three colour grading system, showing each retailer’s position on GM content, derivatives and GM in animal feed.
The guide itself can be found here:
Further information about the GM situation in France can be found from the websites of these organisations:
Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth)