This article is part of our special report Agriculture.
France is trying to modify EU legislation on the authorisation of GMOs, but the process is all but smooth.
Paris will do anything it can to counter the impending approval of genetically modified maize in the European Union. The French minister of agriculture, Stéphane Le Foll, filed “a text at European level that is starting to be discussed by all our European partners,” he said in a recent exchange of views in the Senate.
The French government is proposing the re-nationalisation of the authorisation procedures for GM crops, which are currently decided in Brussels.
“We must change the rules,” the minister insisted, adding that each GM manufacturing company should “request an authorisation to each state”.
The minister's proposal is expected to be discussed during the environment Council meeting next month (3 March).
The French proposal is not new. In July 2010, the Commission proposed a revision of the European legislation offering more flexibility to member states in the management of permits.
The text was then rejected by France and other member states which accused the Commission of not being protective enough of the “anti-GMO” states in the face of possible complaints from GMO exporting countries, such as the United States or Argentina.
However, the option to renationalise the policy area does not convince everybody. The Green MEP, José Bové, says “it’s a false good idea”.
“Giving back decision-making power to the member states poses more problems than it solves. GMOs don’t care about borders,” he added.
This change of position of France is surprising, especially since in 2010 “right and left were opposed to the Commission’s proposal to give decision-making competence to member states,” a source said.
Still, the current EU authorisation procedure on GMOs suits almost no one. Last week, 19 member states out of 28 opposed the approval of the GM maize Pioneer 1507 from DuPont and Dow Chemical. But the qualified majority rules did not make it possible to reject the authorisation. The situation has caused an outcry among members of environmental groups and EU countries opposed to GMOs, who called on the Commission to waive the validation.
“Decision procedures need to be reviewed,” José Bové admits. Meanwhile, the Commission is not expected to give its opinion on the issue before the May elections.
At national level, the French government has also tried to take emergency measures to prevent the cultivation of a different type of GM maize, MON 810 by the Monsanto group but did not get the support of the French senate in a vote on 17 February.
The only authorised GMO in the EU, MON 810 is prohibited in France by a governmental moratorium but was canceled last summer by a top court because of its non-compliance with EU law, opening the door to a revival of its cultivation in France.
To avoid this possibility the government has supported a draft law aimed at prohibiting the cultivation of GM maize in France. It was filed on 4 February, while the government decided to accelerate the procedure for it.
The decision comes as the planting season approaches and corn producers expressed their intention to plant GM maize this year again.
“We must also address short-term issues,” the agriculture minister conceded recognising however that the text was “not compatible with EU law”. Another MP denounced this situation saying that “the Court has stopped all French initiatives on GMOs. It’s an EU competence. This draft law is unlawful.”
Following the debate, the MP filed a motion to dismiss the file, which was adopted with a narrow majority.
As the draft law is being examined, the agriculture and environment ministries announced the launch of a public consultation on a draft law aimed at prohibiting any genetically modified maize from Monsanto, stating that it would “enter into force before the next planting season”.
The law will allow the government to maintain the ban on GMOs as during the examination procedure.
In the EU only two GM crops are approved for commercial cultivation: insect resistant maize, and potatoes with modified starch for industrial use.
Of the total area of GM maize grown in the EU in 2012 (129,000 hectares) one country, Spain, contributed more than 90%.
To date, seven EU countries have introduced national "safeguard" bans on growing Monsanto's MON 810 insect-resistant maize: Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg.
- French parliament Draft law: GMOs