All eyes on France, Austria, policy decisions on genetically modified crops or ‘malbouffe’

January 8, 2008

France’s environmental policy will be discussed in a hearing at the Senate today  in the lead up to a vote on whether or not to extend the country’s temporary ban on genetically modified (GM) crops.

Last October, President Sarkozy put into place a moratorium on the commercial cultivation of GM maize, meaning no new crops could be planted until the country’s biotech position is made clear. The ban is due to come to an end in February.

The temporary ban was part of a package of measures intended to make France greener. An expert group on the subject was set up to decide on the country’s environmental policy, sparking reactions from French activists.

The anti-GM lobby in France is powerful. Farmer activist Jose Bove launched a hunger strike last week with 15 supporters, saying he would not eat again until the government imposes a year-long ban on genetically modified crops.

Bove was convicted last year of ripping up GM crops in southern France. While he was spared a prison sentence and instead fined, Bove announced last month he planned to step up his campaign against GM crops as part of his crusade against what he calls “malbouffe”, or bad food.

The cultivation of GM crops in Europe increased by 77 per cent in 2007, according to figures released by the biotech industry association EuropaBio.

French GM crop cultivation experienced the greatest increase in Europe, quadrupling in size from 5,000 hectares in 1996 to over 21,000 hectares last year.

The long term health effects of GM crops are not known. Also looming large is the issue of cross contamination – GM crops literally crossing over into other non-GM crops. While corporate giants and multinationals are pushing for expansion of GM (GM seed sales earn big $’s), protests are being held throughout Europe, Australia and Canada.

Austria enforced a ban on the import and processing of MON810 and T25 maize in June 1999, expressing concern about the effects on non-target organisms and the development of resistance to toxins by target organisms.

The European Commission has been debating whether to force the country to lift its restrictions since 2005, when the first proposal to force Austria to retract its ban was rejected by the Environment Council.

In November 2005, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ordered Europe’s ban be lifted following a case brought by leading GMO producers Argentina, Canada, and the US under claims that their farmers were losing millions of euros annually because of the EU.

The WTO had previously faulted the EU for undue delay in approving GMO products for a four-year period ending in 2003 and accused a number of member states of maintaining unjustified bans on those products already considered safe in Europe.

By the end of the week the EU will decide on whether Austria will have to permanently end its ban.

GM produced foods are not labeled in the US yet they are included in vitually all processed foods. To learn more visit, http://thecampaign.org/

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