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The New French GMO Bill Under Criticism

Thursday 10 April 2008

The GMO Bill (MAIN POINTS)


PARIS, 9 April 2008 (AFP) – Main points of the GMO Law, adopted on Wednesday by the French Parliament:

GENERAL PRINCIPLES 

The freedom of consuming and producing with or without GMOs, without endangering the integrity of the environment and the specificity of traditional crops as well as quality crops, is the guarantee of the respect of the present precautionary, prevention, information, participation and responsibility principles.

GMOs can only be grown, commercialized or used in accordance with the respect for the environment and public health, agricultural structures, local ecosystems and production and commercial industries qualified as being “GMO-free”.

HIGH COUNCIL FOR BIOTECHNOLOGIES (HCB)

HCB’s mission is to enlighten the Government on the questions pertaining to GMOs or any other biotechnology. It can refer any case to its own authority, or a case can be submitted upon the request of the Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices, or upon the request of a Member of Parliament or a Senator, or upon the request of the consumer associations or the organizations for the protection of the environment. The HCB comes up with an opinion on every approval application, declaration, authorization application, whether pertaining to the use of GMOs in a sealed location or to the deliberate dissemination of GMOs in the environment. The HCB is composed of a “Scientific Council” and an “Economic, Ethical and Social Committee”. Its President is a scientist who was appointed for his competence and the quality of his publications.

COEXISTENCE OF CROPS

National Parks can ban, with the unanimous approval of the farmers concerned, the growing of GM crops on any part or all of their territory. When necessary for the protection of an identification sign of quality and origin, this protection can be reinforced. The technical conditions relating to distances are established “according to the type of crop”. They must allow for an accidental presence of GMOs in other productions to be lower than the threshold established in the Community regulations. 
 

REAPING OFFENCE AND RESPONSIBILITY

The fact of destroying or damaging an authorized GMO plot of land is punishable by a prison sentence of two years and a 75,000 Euro fine. The prison sentence is of three years and a 150,000 Euro fine if the plot of land is devoted to research. Any farmer authorized to grow and commercialize GMOs, is, in his own right, responsible for the economic prejudice resulting in the accidental presence of  
said GMOs in the production of another farmer, including bee keepers.

VARIOUS PROVISIONS

The Administrative Authority establishes a national register indicating the nature and the location of GMO fields. The Prefectures make this register public with all the appropriate means, including publishing the register on the internet. The Creation of a Biological Surveillance of the Territory, composed of appointed personalities, with skills in ecotoxicology, agronomic sciences or the protection of the environment and of plants. 

GMO Law: the French farmer unions are still divided on the question:

PARIS, 9 April 2008 (AFP) – The French farmer unions are still divided on the question of GMOs after a bill on the cultivation and commercialization of genetically modified organisms was voted on Wednesday following the first reading. 

FNSEA, the main agricultural union, is “delighted to see the Bill become Law at last in the Parliament” declared its Vice-President, Pascal Ferey to AFP. “However we regret a much heated debate rather than a fundamental discussion”, added M. Ferey.

FNSEA also deplores the adoption of an amendment proposed by André Chassaigne (PCF), which aims at “protecting quality production zones without GMOs” (for the AOCs mostly [Appellations d'Origine Contrôlée] editor’s note), without this amendment being based “established scientific evidence”.

The union is hoping that the original government bill will be re-established during the second reading, and is looking forward to “the whole thing being finally over” with the bill becoming law and the European Directives being translated into French Law. 

On the contrary, the Peasant Confederation regrets in a press release that “GMO Law did not clearly conclude on the fundamental principle of the right and freedom to produce without GMOs”.

The Peasant Confederation considers that the present Law “is in fact legalising a generalized contamination”, and is calling for the “the strongest political courage for the government facing a parliamentary majority that is completely deaf to the demands of the French”. 

The Rural Coordination regrets, in another press release, that “the farmers growing GMOs and complying with the regulations could be held financially responsible in case of a contamination”. As underlines the Coordination “insurance companies still refuse to cover that type of risk”  and “the Law  does point out that the coexistence GMO/non-GMO is not neutral, contrary to what is said by the seed manufacturing lobbies”. Finally, the Rural Coordination deplores that “the obligation for labelling products containing GMOs was put aside, whereas it would have guaranteed for each consumer a real freedom of consuming with or without GMOs”.
 

The Assemblée Nationale adopted the GMO Bill by a narrow margin, during a major government crisis.

 
PARIS, 9 April 2008 (AFP) – The French Parliament adopted on Wednesday, by a narrow margin and after the first reading, the GMO Bill, the examination of which created a major crisis within the government  and the majority.

The bill which was approved by the senators on 8 February 2008, was adopted by 249  voices against 228, i.e., by a narrow margin (only 21 votes), during a solemn vote demanded by the Socialist, Communist and Green parliamentary groups (PS, PCF-Verts). About a hundred Members of Parliament did not take part in the vote, which is a very large number for a solemn vote.

Qualified as “imperfect” by the Government, its purpose is to clarify the conditions for growing transgenic plants and their coexistence with conventional productions, while complying with the European Directive of 2001 that France took many years to translate into the French Law. The bill became Law last Wednesday, following a major crisis within the Government after the Secretary of State for Ecology, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, criticized openly, in an interview in Le Monde, her Supervisor Minister Jean-Louis Borloo and the Head of the UMP Group in the Assembly Jean-François Copé.