France May Ban Genetically Modified Maize


France is considering banning the use of the sole genetically modified crop grown in the European Union, a maize produced by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto, Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier said on Wednesday.

President Nicolas Sarkozy will unveil on Thursday a new environment policy based on a series of meetings bringing together government, environmentalists, scientists and business leaders.

One of the remaining uncertainties at this stage is whether Sarkozy will allow GMO crops to continue to be grown for commercial use in France or if he will decide to ban them.

Only one GMO crop is grown and sold in the European Union, the so-called MON-810 maize, but Monsanto must request a renewal of its license early in 2008.

"The question is, since this authorization will fall due in April, in a few months, whether it will be suspended and for how long. It will be the President who will decide," Barnier said on France Info radio.

Just 22,000 hectares -- 1.5 percent of France's cultivated land -- have been sown with Monsanto's GMO maize this year but some farmers have urged greater use of GMO crops to boost yields.

Only the European Union has the power to authorize commercial sales of GMOs in the bloc but a member state may ban a crop in its own country, using a "safeguard clause." It then has to notify and justify its move to the European Commission.

Barnier also said that the measures put forward in the environment package would allow open-field tests to continue, despite fierce opposition by anti-GMO groups, in a bid to support research.

"We absolutely need research, including open-field research, with all the required precautions, not to be dependent, in 10 or 15 years, on Chinese or U.S. research," he said.

"It's a question of sovereignty, for Europe and for France."

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