France Considers Tighter GM Crop Test Controls

PARIS, France, August 29, 2001 (ENS) - French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin promised Tuesday to consider further biosecurity requirements for field test sites of genetically modified crops as national debate over the issue reached a new peak.

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Genetically modified corn (Photo courtesy Monsanto)
A new wave of French public concern over the safety of transgenic crops has emerged in recent months after a national food security agency report was released showing low-level genetic contamination of 41 percent of conventional corn crops.

The national peasant confederation, led by anti-globalization activist José Bové, has fanned the flames by launching a genetically modified test crop destruction campaign.

Early Sunday morning, hundreds of activists destroyed test sites for genetically modified corn in southern France, the fifth incident of genetically modified (GM) crop destruction in France since late June.

Speaking in a television interview Tuesday, Jospin said he is seeking advice from his agriculture and environment ministers on how to improve GM crop testing safety. His intervention in the debate has been greeted by the French media as indicating the political importance the government is according the issue as well as its uncertainty over what to do about it.

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French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin (Photo courtesy Universite Catholique de Louvian)
One suggestion made by Farm Minister Jean Glavany on Sunday is to distinguish between commercial and safety oriented crop tests, with stricter rules to be applied to the former.

Research Minister Roger-Gerard Schwartzenberg said the destruction of GM crop experiments is a step backwards in the search for more information. "There are perhaps possible risks for health and the environment, but this is exactly what these tests are trying to verify," Schwartzenberg told a television audience.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Yves Cochet has proposed requiring all genetically modified crop tests to be conducted under cover.

Former Environment Minister Dominique Voynet, a Green Party leader, took the protesters' side. "I understand them," she said. She called their actions the result of "the ambiguous attitude of the government." Voynet stepped down as environment minister in July to lead the Greens through presidential and legislative elections in 2002.

Jospin condemned the destruction of genetically modified crop sites yesterday, but went on to warn against uncontrolled use of crop biotechnology. The technology should not be used as a way to increase use of pesticides, he said, as this could lead to "an intensive and dangerous form of agriculture."

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