French court overturns ban on Monsanto corn variety

01 August 2013 23:36  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--France’s top administrative court on Thursday overturned a ban imposed on Monsanto last year by the government that prevented the agribusiness titan from selling genetically modified corn that is currently used by farmers in the US, Canada and South America.

The Conseil d’Etat said the decision was made in accordance with a directive approved by the European Commission that allows the commercial distribution of Monsanto’s variety known as MON810. The strain includes genetics whereby the corn plant releases a natural toxin that once consumed by insects kills the pest and reduces the need for farmers to spray pesticides to control the damage.

“According to the jurisprudence from the European Union’s Court of Justice, such a measure can be taken by a member state only in case of emergency and in the presence of a situation representing a threat to human health, animal health or the environment,” the court said.

Genetically modified crops have come under tremendous scrutiny in both the US and in Europe as environmentalist and food safety activists have asserted that the crops are dangerous and pose significant risk to human health once consumed. Biotechnology companies and a number of scientists say that argument is flawed and lacks proof to support a widespread ban on their use in commercial agriculture.

This is the second time the court has overturned a ban on growing MON810, and the decision was not unexpected as a preliminary hearing found that there is no scientific justification for prohibiting the variety.

Yet there remains a sentiment amongst French agricultural producers and governmental officials that the advanced genetic technology developed to combat pests and improve yield outputs are a threat to public safety. France is Europe’s leading grain producer and has recently taken centre stage as the most vocal opponents of modified crops.

French agriculture officials said they did not agree with the ruling and have said they will prepare another round of arguments to present to the court in order to get the seed variety ban before French farmers begin planting next spring.

In July, Monsanto announced it was abandoning its plans to seek more approval for biotech crops in Europe and instead renew its efforts to increase the conventional seed business.

Currently, MON810 is only being utilized on limited acreage overseas, most notably in Spain. France is not the only nation to be opposed to the Monsanto seed, as several countries have blocked the cultivation of genetically modified crops including Germany, Greece, Hungary and Poland.

Monsanto did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the court’s decision.

By: Mark Milam
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