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French Skepticism of GMO Crops Signals Policy Shift
Biotech industry comments on French President Sarkozy's statements on the cultivation of biotech crops in France
French Skepticism of GMO Crops Signals Policy Shift
Green campaigners have long warned of the dangers of GMO crops, saying they are potentially toxic since the seeds have been genetically modified to resist pests and weeds.
“Instead of spraying pesticides and herbicides, the toxins
are produced in all of the plant’s cells,” said Geert Ritsema, a Greenpeace
International anti-GMO campaigner in
The conference, attended by former
Sarkozy stopped short of an outright ban on all GMOs, which would have contravened EU agricultural rules, and stressed that his move does not call for halting biotech research.
Critics say GMOs unsafe and toxic
The future of GMOs has long been the subject of heated
In the EU, the MON810 corn variety, which is produced by US-based biotech firm Monsanto, is the only GMO maize that has been approved for cultivation.
Although the GMO share of total maize production in
Green lobbyists say GMOs contaminate conventional crops and create imbalances in the ecosystem where wildlife has to coexist with farming.
“You have a built-in insecticide that is part of the plant's genetic make-up, which not only kills pests,” said Adrian Bebb, a GM food expert at the Munich-based Friends of the Earth Europe. “Pollen from maize falls into streams and impacts on ecologically useful or harmless insects, such as butterflies,” he explained.
Greenpeace says that even though GMO maize is primarily used
as animal feed in
Agricultural lobby pooh-poohs claims
Still, GMO soya, corn and oil seeds have been widely planted by farmers all over the world in the last decade or so, with more than 90 percent of the global supply coming from the US, Canada, Brazil and Argentina.
Multi-national companies that supply the seeds argue that health risks have not been scientifically proven and biotechnological processes are kinder to the environment since they reduce the need for fertilizer and chemical killers.
Pascal Ferey, vice-president of SNSEA, a union which
represents big industry agriculture interests in
“We consume GMO traces everyday in our meat, cheese, mayonnaise and ketchup without even knowing about it. How many shoppers truly read the labels down to the last detail when they buy groceries?” he asked.
Maiz Europ, an association of French maize growers was also critical of how ecological groups have manipulated public opinion and health studies to support their views.
“Do you think Brussels would have authorized GMO seeds if they were so dangerous?” asked spokesman Pascal Hurbault, who pointed out that gene techniques have been the best defense against two particularly voracious rootworms that have ravaged maize crops in southwest France.
European GMO skepticism in stark contrast to US
This past Wednesday, the European Commission authorized
three more corn varieties and a sugar beet to enter the market, but the GMO
crop seeds will be imported, not grown in
The raging debate over the future of GMOs in Europe is in
sharp contrast to the
Genetically modified ingredients have found their way onto supermarket shelves in the form of cooking oils and processed foods, said Bebb of Friend of the Earth Europe.
“Since GMO labeling is not required in the
Campaigners agree that there is more awareness in European nations about the dangers of genetically-modified food partly due to the fact that food producers are required by the EU to label products containing GMO ingredients. Various opinion polls show that at least 80 percent of the French public are against GMO foods, which are viewed as unnatural and unhealthy.
Despite the strong passions evoked by GM crops among both
advocates and critics, most have welcomed Sarkozy's push for a leadership role
on environmental issues that has long been neglected by his predecessors at the
Some point out that
"Earlier the government was under pressure from industry groups to be pro-GMO," said Bebb. "So the precautionary shift now in Sarkozy's tone is a seismic one."
comments on French President Sarkozy's statements on the cultivation of biotech
October 29, 2007
In the statement the French President justifies his decision on the basis of supposed doubts on the value of biotech crops, the ability to manage their dissemination and their health and environmental benefits.
President Sarkozy's call for the creation of a new independent body shows distrust in the accumulated scientific evidence to date, of the expert opinions from both the French Food Agency (AFSSA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and of the European approval system generally.
A suspension also flies in the face of the overwhelming scientific evidence and positive commercial experience of biotech crops around the world. In 2006, 10.3 million farmers in 22 countries cultivated genetically modified (biotech) crops on 102 million hectares. The adoption rate has seen double-digit annual growth since 1996.
A suspension will greatly damage the competitiveness of French farmers who have benefited from this technology for the past 3 years. An exclusive CSA Institute survey for the French Maize growers shows that 52% of the French are in favour of using the cultivation of biotech crops to safeguard the competitiveness of French farmers.
French farmers should have the right voluntarily to choose whether or not to grow approved biotech crops (1).
EuropaBio welcomes the reported remarks by EU Agriculture
Commissioner Fischer Boel on the illegality of a ban on biotech crops in France
and EU Environment Commissioner Dimas asking
As far as health and environmental benefits of biotech crops are concerned, they are a tool for farmers to fight disease, increase yields and reduce the inputs needed to grow crops. This is reflected by the fact that French farmers grew 70% more GM maize in 2006 compared with the previous year.
The environmental benefits of insect resistant corn are
equally well documented. Thus, biotech crop-related carbon dioxide emission
savings in 2005 are equivalent to the removal from the roads of nearly 4.01
million cars for a year, equal to about 17% of all registered cars in the
Crop yields of biotech maize can increase up to 15% in areas of the highest corn borer pressure.
Experience with the same crop in
(1) Experience of growing Biotech maize - A French farmer's witness account - http://www.liberation.fr/actualite/economie_terre/286682.FR.php
EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries, has 85 direct members operating Worldwide, 12 associate members and 5 bioregions as well as 25 national biotechnology associations representing some 1800 small and medium sized enterprises involved in research and development, testing, manufacturing and distribution of biotechnology products. http://www.europabio.org