EU warns France on modified crop approvals

French oilseed rape moratorium leading to unjustifiable delays, Commission alleges

The European Commission today decided to send two warning letters to France over Paris' failure to comply with EU rules on the approval and marketing of genetically modified crops. The letters represent the first stage of infringement proceedings which could ultimately end in legal action at the European Court of Justice.

One of the letters takes the French to task for refusing to authorise cultivation of two varieties of oilseed rape modified to resist herbicides. The varieties were cleared for EU-wide cultivation last June and France was supposed simply to rubber stamp the decision. However Paris instead decided imposed a two-year moratorium on the production of the crops (ENDS Daily 3 August).

The French argue more time is needed to assess possible impacts the new strains could have if they cross-breed with wild varieties of rape to create 'super weeds'. But Commission officials argue that while the 1990 EU directive (90/220) which sets out the authorisation procedure for GM crops contains no specific deadlines for compliance, France has nevertheless taken too long to give the green light to the two oilseed rape varieties. "Fifteen months is too long and we have decided today to open procedures against them," Commission spokesperson Peter Jørgensen told ENDS Daily.

The second letter concerns what the Commission considers are unacceptable delays by the French authorities in replying to industry requests for authorisation for around a dozen new varieties of GMO crops. Under directive 90/220 France has 90 days to refuse a demand that it feels does not comply with the EU rules or to accept it and then pass the case on to the Commission for Union-level scrutiny. "They do not have a third option of not opening their mail or refusing to answer the telephone. They can't just sit on it," explained Mr Jørgensen.

Meanwhile, the French authorities are coming under opposite domestic pressure from environmental group Greenpeace, which yesterday called on the French Council of State - the country's highest administrative court - to overturn a decision approving the cultivation of two stains of GMO maize produced by biotech companies Monsanto and AgrEvo. The organisation is confident of its chances of victory following the Council of State's recent decision to withdraw authorisation for the Bt176 strain of GMO maize produced by Novartis (ENDS Daily 25 September).

"If we follow [that] decision then I think we have a good case," Arnaud Apoteker of Greenpeace France told ENDS Daily. He added that he believed public opinion in France was becoming more and more sceptical about the desirability of modified crops. "This country has finally realised there could be a problem with this maize," he said.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111; Greenpeace France, tel: +33 1 53 43 85 85.

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