1.France defends GM ban
2.France to maintain ban on Monsanto GMO maize: PM

Note: For French speakers, the response of Greenpeace France can be found here:
1.France defends GM ban after report says safe in food
By Sybille de La Hamaide
Reuters, Feb 12 2009

(Update 1: Adds Prime Minister comment, Monsanto reaction)

PARIS, Feb 12 (Reuters) - A report by the French food safety agency that says genetically modified maize is safe for humans does not call France's ban on the crop into question, Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said on Thursday.

Borloo's statement came in response to an article in the Le Figaro daily, which said the agency, Afssa, did not see any health risks to the insect-resistant MON 810 maize developed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto (MON.N).

MON 810 is the only genetically modified crop approved in the European Union but France suspended its cultivation last year, invoking a so-called safeguard clause against the European Commission's authorisation. [ID:nL11575841]

Borloo, said the ban was imposed not because of any direct threat to human or animal health but because of the risk that fields of genetically modified maize could create wider environmental problems, notably contaminating other crops.

"The basis of the safeguard clause, which tackles open-field cultivation of the Monsanto 810 maize, is on risks considered as severe for the environment and not on sanitary risks," he said.

However, Monsanto said in a statement on Thursday the MON 810 maize was safe both for consumers and the environment.

Borloo is due to appear before a committee of European biotech experts next week to justify France's ban.

Commenting on the issue from Brussels, after a meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said France would maintain its ban until a decision by the Commission.


Separately, Afssa said the report, which had been due to be made public on Feb. 20 after Borloo's appearance before the committee, repeated what had already been said in an earlier report, which has been public since June last year.

"If you look at the risks for human and animal feeding concerning this GMO, there is no change in Afssa's stance," the agency's director general Pascale Briand told Reuters.

"Monsanto 810 maize and its by-products have the same level of health and food security level as conventional maize."

Unlike in the United States and Latin America, where they are more common, only seven EU nations planted GM crops last year, an industry-sponsored report said this week. [ID:nLB96981]

Polls show the vast majority of the French are opposed to GM crops because they have not seen enough proof that they do not pose risks to consumers and the environment.

Monsanto says the protein contained in the maize has selective toxicity but is harmless to humans, fish and wildlife.

Several green groups expressed surprise that Afssa's report, originally due to be publised on Feb. 20 had been leaked in the French press before Borloo's hearing on Monday, Feb. 16.

"The release (of Afssa's report) in these conditions is a gross manipulation by pro-GMO lobbies," Greenpeace said.

It and other groups called on France to stand firm against the European Commission, which had authorised the GM maize.

After the article in Le Figaro, Afssa said it had decided to make its latest report public by posting it on its website immediately. (Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon)
2.France to maintain ban on Monsanto GMO maize: PM
AFP, 12 Feb 2009

BRUSSELS (AFP) - France will keep a ban on genetically modified maize from US biotech giant Monsanto until the environmental risks are clarified, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Thursday.

"France is maintaining the suspension while it awaits a (European) Commission decision which it will respect," Fillon said at a joint press conference with commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels.

His comments came shortly after France's food watchdog said it had concluded that the GMO maize is safe, contradicting an earlier report that led to the French ban.

"The decision to suspend the growing (of the maize) was taken as a precaution due to the potential environmental risks associated with a contamination of non-GMO crops," Fillon said.

The watchdog report concerns the health aspect, rather than the environmental risk, he argued.

The AFSSA watchdog report, which became public after it was revealed in the daily Le Figaro, angered environmentalists and embarrassed President Nicolas Sarkozy's government which had resorted to a special EU measure to outlaw the crop.

The agency said there was no evidence to support the view that MON810, the only strain of GM maize under cultivation in France before the ban, posed a health risk.

In 2007, 22,000 hectares (55,000 acres) were sown with MON810 -- less than one percent of the sown acreage for corn in France.

The earlier expert report said evidence had emerged that the genetically modified crop had an effect on insects, a species of earthworm and micro-organisms.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has called on France, as well as Austria, Greece and Hungary, to lift their safeguard measures against EU-approved GM crops.

"We remain open to dialogue," Barroso said, adding that there would be a meeting in Brussels on Monday on food security in EU member states.

Officials will look in particular at France and Greece's actions in the matter and could ask EU environment ministers to come to a decision.

Regarding the original French report which declared risks associated with the Monsanto GM maize, 12 of the 15 scientists who compiled it later issued a statement complaining that their findings had been misrepresented.