French court rules in favour of GM maize

Greenpeace loses case as council of state finds no irregularities in 1998 marketing approval

France's highest administrative court yesterday ruled that government approval for sale and planting of three varieties of genetically modified (GM) maize in 1998 was not subject to any irregularities. The ruling marks failure for a court challenge launched by Greenpeace and other environmental groups, which initially forced the government to suspend approval for the varieties (ENDS Daily 25 September 1998).

It also means that the case will not be referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). If it had been, then the ECJ could have decided that the French government's approval was irregular (ENDS Daily 21 March). This would have nullified France's authorisation and also thrown all other EU member states' approvals into doubt, because of the way data is shared between governments.

Though the three varieties containing "Novartis event 176" are now legal for marketing in France, developer Novartis Seeds told ENDS Daily that it would not market them for at least the next year because of public safety concerns.

Greenpeace, the French Green party and the Peasants' Confederation all condemned the council of state's decision, accusing it of failing to address public concerns over food safety and likening the potential risks of GM foods to the country's current crisis over BSE-infected meat.

Several EU member states, including Austria, Luxembourg, Portugal, Italy, the UK and Germany, have banned or stalled approval of certain GM varieties, including Novartis event 176. Such action goes against the opinion of the EU scientific committee on plants, which has backed Novartis event 176 as safe on several occasions. Most recently, the committee rejected a claim by Germany that new evidence had called the GM crop's safety into question (ENDS Daily 17 November).

Follow Up:
French agriculture ministry, tel: +33 1 49 55 49 55; Greenpeace France, tel: +33 1 44 64 02 02; Novartis, tel: +41 61 324 2000.

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