The battle over growing genetically modified crops in France flared anew on Thursday as the country's top administrative court overturned a government ban on growing GM corn sold by the US giant Monsanto.
In the second legal setback to French restrictions on MON810 corn in five years, the Council of State court said a moratorium imposed on the product since March 2012 failed to uphold European Union law.
Under EU rules, such a ban can only be taken by a member state in case of an emergency or if a situation poses a major risk to people, animals or the environment, it said.
This argument was not supported in the use of an emergency provision in EU legislation known as a safeguard clause, it said. The ban was imposed after a previous moratorium, set in March 2008, was annulled by the same court in November 2011.
In a joint statement, Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll and Ecology Minister Philippe Martin announced the authorities would take a fresh decision on MON810 before the next sowing season in April 2014.
But they hinted that further moves against the corn lay ahead.
They take note of the ruling and recall the government’s undertaking... to maintain the moratorium on growing GM crops to prevent economic and environmental risks for other crops and bee-keeping, the statement said.
It added that the ministries would work on new directions to meet those preventive goals.
MON810 includes an inserted gene that makes the corn plant exude a natural toxin that is poisonous to insect pests. This offers a potential financial gain for farmers, as they do not have to use chemical pesticides.
Green groups say that GM crops are potentially dangerous and should be outlawed as a precaution. Scientists, though, have generally found no major problems with the first generation of these crops, of which MON810 is one.
It has been given the ok for farmers in many big grain-growing countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China, but has run headlong into problems in Europe.
Brussels cleared MON810 in 1998 for 10 years and Monsanto submitted a request in 2007 for it to be extended but the process has been effectively frozen since then.
In the meantime, MON810 is grown only on a small scale, notably in Spain and Portugal. Other countries that have adopted provisions allowing them to block cultivation of GM crops on their territory include Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg and Poland.
Monsanto insists that fears about GM products are groundless and that they are in fact essential if growing global demand for food is to be met.