EU agency says French GMO maize ban unjustified

PARIS Fri Oct 31, 2008 3:30pm GMT

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PARIS (Reuters) - Europe's top food safety agency said on Friday that France's ban on a genetically modified maize developed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto was unjustified.

Monsanto's MON 810 is the only GM crop grown in the European Union, unlike in the United States and Latin America, where they are more common. Many European countries doubt the safety of using the genetic technology in agriculture.

"No specific scientific evidence, in terms of risk to human and animal health and the environment, was provided that would justify the invocation of a safeguard clause," the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said in an opinion released on its website. The EFSA is based in Parma, Italy.

France suspended the use of MON 810 earlier this year, invoking a so-called safeguard clause against the European Commission's decision to authorize the GM maize.

The French government said it had serious doubts about whether Mon 810 maize was safe for the environment.

However, the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMO) has remained legal. The European Commission, which monitors food safety and implementation of EU food standards across the bloc's 27 member countries, had requested the opinion from the EFSA.

The Commission will consider the opinion and will very likely order France to lift its ban, diplomats said.

If the Commission did order removal of the ban and France chose to oppose it, it could provide more information to justify the ban or appeal the decision at the European Court of Justice.

France is the European Union's main agricultural power and its largest exporter of farm products. Its GMO ban has drawn criticism from interest groups on both sides of the issue.

Polls show that the vast majority of French are opposed to GM crops because they have not seen enough proof that they do not pose risks to consumers and the environment.

Monsanto says the protein contained in the maize has selective toxicity but is harmless to humans, fish and wildlife.

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide)

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