France maintains ban on GMO maize

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Despite a health report by France’s food watchdog that GMO maize is safe for consumption, the government will maintain its ban until environmental risks are clarified.

BRUSSELS – 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," Barros 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.

[AFP / Expatica]

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