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French GM ban infuriates farmers, delights environmentalists

Published on February 12, 2008

   PARIS, Febraury 12, 2008 - France officially banned Saturday a strain ofgenetically modified corn from US agribusiness giant Monsanto, delightingenvironmentalists but sparking outrage from the company and French farmers.   At least one association planned a legal challenge to the ruling, butleading environmental campaigner Jose Bove welcomed the decision, describingit as the fruit of a 10-year battle by anti-GM groups.   A spokeswoman for Monsanto said Saturday that France's decision to outlawthe use of the MON810 strain of corn, the only GM crop grown in France, "hadno scientific basis".   She added: "Monsanto is studying all the legal options to defend theliberty of French farmers to use safe and authorised products."   Farmers affected by the decision expressed their frustration Saturday.   "France finds itself isolated and the south-west penalised against Spanishcompetition, which does not apply the same rules," said Dominique Barrau, afarmers' union leader from the southwest of the country, bordering Spain.   His part of France would be particularly hard hit, he said, as 80 percentof GM crops grown in France were planted in the southwest Pyrenees andAquitaine regions.   Bove, who launched a hunger strike last month along with 15 colleagues overthe issue, said the ban was overdue.   "We are satisfied this morning, that after 10 years of combat the MON810corn has been banned from cultivation," he said.   "There will be no MON810 cultivation in France in 2008 and that is a goodthing," he told France 2 television.   Bove, who has staged several hunger strikes, has been convicted of rippingup GM crops in southern France.   The question is already set to go before France's Council of State afterthe General Association of Corn Producers (AGPM) warned in late January thatthey would challenge the ruling there.   With the law requiring a hearing within three weeks, corn producers couldstill plant the variety of GM corn this spring if France's highestadministrative court supports their appeal, said AGPM director Luc Esprit.   The association estimates the ban would cause farmers losses of some 10million euros (15 million dollars).   France officially imposed the ban with the publication of an agricultureministry order in the state's official journal.   "The growing of corn seeds ... derived from genetically modified cornstrain MON810 is prohibited on [French] territory," read the order, signed byAgriculture Minister Michel Barnier.   Last year, 22,000 hectares (55,000 acres) were sown with the product --less than one percent of the sown acreage for corn in France.   The French government began moves for a ban last month after a watchdogauthority said it had "serious doubts" about the product.   Chairman Jean-Francois Le Grand, who also holds a seat in the Senate, saidevidence had emerged that MON810 had an effect on insects, a species ofearthworm and micro-organisms.   There was also concern that wind-borne pollen from MON810 could travel muchfurther than previously thought -- perhaps as much as hundreds of miles(kilometres), said Le Grand.   But the report remains controversial: 12 of the 15 scientists who compiledit issued a statement complaining that Le Grand had misrepresented theirfindings.