French state body upholds decision on GM crop ban
By Valerie Parent
PARIS (Reuters) - France's top legal authority on Wednesday upheld a government decision to ban commercial use of the only genetically modified (GM) crop grown in the country by rejecting an emergency injunction filed by the pro-GM camp.
France issued decrees banning the use of MON 810 maize seeds in February after a government-appointed committee said it unearthed new evidence of damage GM products could inflict on the environment.
Ecologists and ordinary consumers hailed the ruling, but seedmakers, including MON 810 creator Monsanto, and maize farmers lodged an emergency injunction in an attempt to overturn the ban.
In a document released on Wednesday, France's State Council shot down arguments put forward by pro-GM groups, saying they did not cast doubt on the validity of the government's stance.
"(Those seeking the injunction) have no foundation to demand the suspension of the decrees banning commercial sowings of MON 810 maize," wrote the judge overseeing the case.
The State Council still has to issue its verdict on a separate appeal from the pro-GMO faction, this time questioning the legal foundation of France's February decrees.
Conclusions for that appeal should come towards the end of the year, well after the close of France's maize planting season which kicks off in April, legal sources told Reuters.
Wednesday's State Council ruling confirmed French farmers will be unable to use maize seeds which incorporate GM technology, created by biotech giant Monsanto, in 2008.
Farmers sowed Monsanto GM maize on 22,000 hectares last year, representing just under 1.5 percent of France's cultivated maize area.
The European Union has authorized MON 810 throughout the 27-nation bloc but is set to re-evaluate its use later this year.
In February, France followed through on its decrees by invoking a legal mechanism, known as the safeguard clause, at EU level to secure a more long term ban.
To succeed, France will need to provide new, scientific proof of the risks posed by the GM seed.
While GM crops are common in the United States, France -- Europe's biggest grain producer -- remains highly suspicious of them, like many other European nations.
Supporters say use of GM crops could help feed the world's poor. Opponents, which polls say include a majority of French people, fear they could harm humans and wildlife by triggering an uncontrolled spread of modified genes.
Highlighting deep divides, even within France, leading maize growers' association AGPM, which jointly filed the injunction, expressed hope that future French rulings would favor use of the GM maize seed.
"We are deeply disappointed but that is the decision and we acknowledge it," said Luc Esprit, who heads AGPM.
In the meantime, imports of GM maize would continue to flood into France to feed the country's livestock, Esprit said.
"This doesn't alter the fact that we are confident about the final judgment which will be made later," he said, referring to the State Council's decision on the second appeal.
Greenpeace embraced Wednesday's State Council decision.
"Greenpeace rejoices in the fact that the challenges of protecting our citizens and the environment have been judged more important than the private interests of a handful of multinationals and the pro-GMO lobby," it said in a statement.
(Editing by Valerie Parent; editing by Chris Johnson)