Yes, Monsieur Barnier, Let’s Really Talk About GMOs

Thursday 13 September 2007
However, the crucial research on such a technology, that is still in its infancy, is necessary, but it ought to focus on developing new species that would be solutions rather than creating new problems. In this respect, we are perfectly in the running, since the speeches delivered by the leaders in the seed manufacturing business on the fight against hunger, for example, have no connection whatsoever with the reality of plants that do not exist yet… For lack of sufficient profitability!  

So if  we would like too to see the research develop, however it remains necessary to find out what the word research means exactly  for that matter. And the question does not only pertain to the types of plants, it also has to do with the effects on the environment and on human health. The Minister reminds us that the only maize cultivated in France is the MON810. But he forgets to mention that this variety is banned from Germany, because it is unstable and potentially dangerous for the environment. 

One of the first main lines of research should be to re-examine very thoroughly the studies on MON810, and in the mean time apply the Precautionary Principle which is part of the Charter of the Environment. But today, unfortunately, its real impact takes mostly place… in the media!. 

Research still has to , be conducted on human health. It is astonishing that human health should not be considered a major research topic, but it isn’t. There’s the rub. The Government continues to refuse stubbornly to finance research on the topic and continues to cover industrial secrecy, in violation of the Community Directive and the decisions of the French Commission for the Access to Administrative Documents, on the very few studies conducted on the impact of GMOs on rats fed GMOs over a 90-day period, which is a basic test for pesticides and herbicides. 
The counter evaluation carried out on MON 863, which questions the evaluation conducted by  Monsanto claiming an absence of toxic effects, was rejected by the Government, which is sticking to the opinion of the French Commission of Biomolecular Engineering, which in turn, refuses to go back on its first evaluation. It must be noted, however, that 10 European Governments took an opposite stand point and demanded that independent research should be undertaken at last, on the health impact of this GMO. As well as a few others. So, asking for more research can mean a whole lot of different things. 

Now, for a peaceful debate to take place, it would be necessary for the debate not to be biased. And for the debate not to be biased, the Government needs to stop burying its head in the sand and persist in ignoring the issues on the impact of GMOs on health. It is impossible, in a proper debate, to continue upholding that there no evidence of any health impact… Simply because the impact has never been investigated! This is the very reason why the Ministries of  Ecology and Health must be directly associated in the choices of research topics. 

And yes, for a peaceful debate to take place, it would be necessary to turn our backs on the consensus conference of 1998 which turned out to be a farce: the decisions had been taken before the debate and the only opinion published was that of one single Spokesman Member of Parliament, when the contrary opinion of the citizen panel was omitted! For a peaceful debate to take place, you need to stop trying to make people feel guilty when they are doubtful where GMOs are concerned, because a poor farmer took his own life just before an anti-GMO protest. 

The fact that planting GMOs is badly perceived doesn’t come from the so-called pressure of the anti-GMOs. It comes from the silence in response to the good old common sense questioning of those who wonder why on earth it would be worthwhile to take such risks and who demand public funded research on health. It also comes from the refusal of insurance companies to cover GMO risks, so that French society as a whole has to bear the costs, whilst 80% of the population is opposed to GMOs. It comes from the  absence of liability for those who commercialize and grow GMOs with respect to their closest neighbours, but also in relation to their distant neighbours and their neighbourhood in general. Therefore a peaceful debate will have to start with the answering essential questions for the citizen, instead of using self-persuasion or trying to make people feel guilty and therefore distort the terms of the debate. 

Research on GMOs is an unprecedented opportunity to engage into research for the general interest, with economic, health and environmental impacts, and with, on top of it all, an ethical approach. This would certainly lend credibility to the politicians in power.

Corinne Lepage

Former Minister of the Environment

President of CAP21