Cautious approval for gene-modified plants

French MP recommends strict controls, crop segregation, greater transparency

A report by the French parliament's science and technology options evaluation office (OPECST) has given cautious approval for further development of genetically modified plants, but recommends strict new national and international controls and a two-year moratorium on three varieties of oilseed rape.

Written by MP Jean-Yves Le Deault, a member of the governing socialist party, the report calls on the government to issue a decree "before the end of the year" to create a new citizens' commission on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The commission should report annually to the prime minister on all applications for marketing or use of GMOs, Mr Le Deault argues.

Turning to the proposal issued last year by the European Commission to revise the EU's rules on the marketing of GMOs under the "deliberate release" directive (ENDS Daily 26 November 1997), the MP urges changes to simplify and speed up decision making.

In line with the Commission's thinking, Mr Le Deault argues that single EU countries should no longer be able to block authorisation of modified plants if other member states are favourable. The Commission should be forced to reach decisions on marketing applications within four months, he says. In the longer term, EU-level bodies should launch authorisation procedures rather than member states as at present.

In part to prevent the possibility of an "economic war" with the USA, where authorisations of modified crops are more advanced than in the EU, international cooperation should be greatly strengthened, the MP says. Mr Le Deault recommends the creation of a permanent scientific consultative body on modified plants and new foods along lines already being discussed by UN institutions. A global bank of modified DNA sequences should be created, permitting eventual detection of any modified plant sequences, he says.

Responding to the French government's still fluid policy on genetically modified plants, Mr Le Deault recommends continued case-by-case analysis of most applications currently in the "pipeline," but calls for a two-year moratorium on marketing approval for three varieties of oilseed rape developed by PGS-Agrevo and Agrevo - though he recommends continued testing up to 5,000 hectares. All three have been modified to tolerate herbicides, but also contain whole antibiotic resistance "marker" genes which are "controlled" by a "promoter" sequence of DNA derived from a bacterium.

Even entire antibiotic resistance genes could be acceptable, on the other hand, if controlled by a promoter from a multi-celled organism, Mr Le Deault argues. "I am persuaded" that the risk of transfer of antibiotic resistance properties to bacteria in the environment in this case are "infinitesimal," he says.

Mr Le Deault supports the EU's recent decision on labelling of foods containing modified ingredients (ENDS Daily 20 May). A complete segregation of modified and non-modified materials, from farm to retailer, will be necessary to ensure that labelling is reliable, he argues.

Follow Up:
French National Assembly, tel: +33 1 40 63 60 60.

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