French PM announces moratorium on GM crops

EU's largest oilseed rape exporter imposes two year ban on approving GM varieties

The French government has announced a partial moratorium on the introduction of genetically modified crops for the next two years. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said last week that no approvals would be given for the commercial-scale growth of oilseed rape or any other modified crop which posed the risk of gene transfer to related species.

Applications to the French government for other modified crops - including maize - will be assessed on a case by case basis for their risks for human health and the environment.

News of the moratorium from the EU's largest oilseed rape exporter has delighted environmental groups. Greenpeace France claimed a "victory" after many months of campaigning, while its counterpart in Germany called on its government to follow the French example. A campaigner told ENDS Daily: "This is the first time that a major agricultural country in Europe has imposed a sets a precedent."

German firm Hoechst will feel the most immediate impacts of the decision. Its joint-venture subsidiary AgrEvo last year acquired the company that developed the first oilseed rape for which commercial-scale approval has been sought at EU level.

Ironically, France had already approved that product and other EU states voted to support its decision last summer. All that was needed was formal French notification to the company to complete the process.

European biotechnology industry association, EuropaBio, told ENDS Daily the moratorium announcement had come as a surprise and it could not understand the government's reasons for it. "I could understand a half-year moratorium while testing is carried out [for gene transfer] but two years makes no sense," said Secretary-General Anthony Arke.

Mr Arke welcomed a parallel French decision to authorise two lines of modified maize developed by AgrEvo and Monsanto following approval by other EU states earlier this year (ENDS Daily 19 March).

Last week's decision does little to clarify the government's policy on modified crops containing antibiotic-resistance marker genes. There is concern that these may be transferred to animals eating modified feed and spread resistance to important antibiotics. It says it will consider future crops containing such genes on a case by case basis, while promoting research to develop alternative marker technologies.

Mr Jospin also confirmed that their will be plans for "biovigilance" of modified crops once sown and promised greater openness from the government's scientific advisory bodies. His decision finalises the government's policy on biotechnology, the first stages of which were announced last November (ENDS Daily 28 November 1997). It is also intended to respond to France's first public "consensus conference" on biotechnology (ENDS Daily 24 June) and is closely in line with a recent recommendation from the parliament's science and technology options evaluations office (ENDS Daily 1 July).

Follow Up:
Office of the prime minister, tel: +33 1 42 75 80 00.

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