French Council of State Allows Genetically-Modified Corn to Return to France

Anti-MONSANTO sign from a San Francisco protest Photo: www.flickr.com/photos/msdonnalee

Anti-MONSANTO sign from a San Francisco protest
Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/msdonnalee

On Thursday, August 1, the Conseil d’Etat (Council of State), France’s highest administrative jurisdiction, lifted the ban on the genetically modified (GM) corn, MON810 grown by Monsanto. The ruling was based on case law from the EU’s court of justice, which clearly states, “such a measure cannot be taken by a member state except for in the case of an emergency or in the presence of a situation that could pose a significant risk of jeopardizing human health, animal health or the environment,” according to the interpretation of the Council.

Europe in general, and particularly France, is significantly resistant to GMOs, with only two genetically modified grown in Europe: MON810 and Amflora BASF, a potato crop that is no longer sold. MON810, which is produced by the U.S. company Monsanto, has been repeatedly banned from French soil. In 2008, France, alongside many other European countries (including Austria, Hungary, Romania, Greece, Luxembourg, and Bulgaria), banned the cultivation of MON810 on their soils. The Court of Justice of the European Union then suspended the interdiction in 2011, quoting a lack of legal basis to justify the ban. The government then voted on a new moratorium on MON810 in March of 2012. The vote was based on unclear findings published by the European Food Safety Authority.

Like other GM crops, MON810 corn is suspected to be toxic and causing harm to biodiversity, specifically bees. The genetically modified crop functions by scattering the culture Bacillus thuringiensis to eliminate pest species that typically ravage the corn crop. However, honey producers claim that this toxin, in conjunction with other pesticides, is responsible for the massive decline in the bee population.

Though MON810 has been hard-fought by environmentalists since its introduction in the 1980s, multiple agriculture unions and federations in France argue that the ban is “not based on any serious scientific evidence.” The farmers further contend that corn producers “suffer a real economic loss” from pests that ravage maize crops, notably the borer and stem borer, and that the GMO protects against these.

In its ruling on August 1Mini, the Conseil d’État claimed that if the proper measures are taken, cohabitation of MON810 with the environment and other agriculture is possible. The measures include various safeguards, such as encircling the GMO with bands of conventional crops and ensuring that they are located far from beehives.

The French government, however, has not reacted so favorably to lifting the ban. The Ministers of Environment and Agriculture, Philippe Martin and Stéphane Le Foll, issued a statement immediately after the Council’s decision, evoking their commitment to “maintain the moratorium on the cultivation of GM seeds, in order to prevent the environmental and economic risks for other agriculture and beekeeping.” On the broadcasting channel Europe 1, Mr. Le Foll repeated his statement, adding that the Constitutional Council does not have the final word on the ban of GMOs and “relies only on legal basis to say whether it is valid or not.”

This sentiment is upheld by 80% of the French public who still refuse GMOs. While France does not grow GMOs with the exception of MON810, it does import genetically modified products as an animal food source and for industrial agriculture. Monsanto itself had little foothold growing GMOs on French soil, with only 5,000 hectares cultivated in 2006 and 22,000 in 2007, before the ban. At the beginning of 2012, Monsanto said it would stop marketing in France due to the lack of “favorable political context.”

While the ban on MON810 has been lifted once again, it remains to see how long it will remain in suspension, against both popular and government content.  Martin and Le Foll have promised a new decision before the start of the 2014 planting season, and many beekeepers and environmental groups plan on challenging the court’s decisions.

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  1. […] d’Etat, France’s highest administrative jurisdiction, lifted the ban on the genetically modified (GM) corn MON810, grown by Monsanto. The ruling was based on case law from the European Court of Justice, which […]

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