Farmers on trial for damaging Novartis maize

Union says court case is trial of government policy on genetically modified plants

Three French farmers are due to appear in court tomorrow (Tuesday) for allegedly sabotaging stocks of genetically modified maize belonging to Swiss multinational Novartis. The case has put French policy on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the spotlight.

The three men were in a group of 120 farmers who broke into a Novartis site at Nérac in the south of France and mixed stocks of modified and unmodified maize. Novartis alleges that in the process they destroyed 30 tonnes of maize worth FFr2-5m (Ecu0.3-0.8m).

All of them members of France's second largest farmers' union, Confédération Paysanne (CP), the men were protesting at the French government's decision last November to approve cultivation of the Novartis maize (ENDS Daily 28 November 1997).

CP wants the government to reverse the decision, which it claims was made without consulting farmers. CP's national secretary René Riesel is one of the men on trial. CP is also calling on the government to organise both a parliamentary and a wider public debate on the benefits and risks of GMOs. In fact, a "consensus conference" on modified plants was announced by the government in November, and is to be held later this year.

At the court hearing, lawyers for the farmers are planning to summon 11 scientists and representatives from consumer groups and farmers' unions to explain their opposition to the maize. According to CP, the trial is "not the trial of three vandals, but the trial of transgenic maize".

CP is organising a demonstration outside the court to attract further publicity to the case. An Internet campaign by the organisation has brought support from 300 groups from 25 countries.

Follow Up:
Confédération Paysanne, tel: +33 1 43 62 04 04; Greenpeace France, tel: +33 1 53 43 85 85.

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