France to require GM maize crop segregation

Environmental groups welcome "victory," call on other European countries to follow suit

Environmental campaigners have welcomed a decision announced by the French government yesterday to stock the country's first harvest of genetically modified (GM) maize separately from non-GM varieties. The French ministry of agriculture added that none of the GM maize would be put on the market for the time being.

The decision represents an important victory for European campaigners, who have been calling for GM and non-GM crops to be separated all the way along the food chain from the field to the table. However, though France is the EU's largest maize producer, the decision will have no impact on shipments of 'mixed' GM and non-GM maize grown in other countries.

Officials at the agriculture ministry said yesterday's move followed naturally from a ruling by France's Council of State - the country's highest administrative court - which suspended the approval for cultivation of the Bt176 strain of GM maize produced by biotech firm Monsanto (ENDS Daily 25 September). "We decided that it was important to have a certain coherence with" the council's ruling, explained one.

Environmental campaigners Greenpeace said the decision showed that French government accepted that the council's ruling concerned both the planting and harvesting of GM maize. "We are happy that the ministry of agriculture has finally admitted that this ruling does not just concern seeds," said Arnaud Apoteker of Greenpeace France. The news was also welcomed by Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE), who are coordinating an EU-wide campaign against GM crops.

"We are very happy about this decision," said FoEE biotechnology expert Gill Lacroix. "We would now like to see similar decisions taken in Spain and Germany," she added, referring to the two other EU states where GM maize is currently being grown in any significant quantity.

Officials at the French ministry of agriculture said that they expected the ban to stay in place for some time - probably until EU environment ministers have agreed on how the 1990 EU directive that sets out marketing and approval procedures for GM crops should be updated. They are expected to decide on this at their next formal meeting in December.

Follow Up:
French agriculture ministry, tel: +33 1 49 55 49 55; Greenpeace France, tel: +33 1 53 43 85 85; Friends of the Earth Europe, tel: +32 2 542 01 80.

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