PARIS (AFP) — France officially banned Saturday a strain of genetically modified corn from US agribusiness giant Monsanto, delighting environmentalists but sparking outrage from the company and French farmers.
At least one association planned a legal challenge to the ruling, but leading environmental campaigner Jose Bove welcomed the decision, describing it as the fruit of a 10-year battle by anti-GM groups.
A spokeswoman for Monsanto said Saturday that France's decision to outlaw the use of the MON810 strain of corn, the only GM crop grown in France, "had no scientific basis".
She added: "Monsanto is studying all the legal options to defend the liberty of French farmers to use safe and authorised products."
Farmers affected by the decision expressed their frustration Saturday.
"France finds itself isolated and the south-west penalised against Spanish competition, which does not apply the same rules," said Dominique Barrau, a farmers' union leader from the southwest of the country, bordering Spain.
His part of France would be particularly hard hit, he said, as 80 percent of GM crops grown in France were planted in the southwest Pyrenees and Aquitaine regions.
Bove, who launched a hunger strike last month along with 15 colleagues over the issue, said the ban was overdue.
"We are satisfied this morning, that after 10 years of combat the MON810 corn has been banned from cultivation," he said.
"There will be no MON810 cultivation in France in 2008 and that is a good thing," he told France 2 television.
Bove, who has staged several hunger strikes, has been convicted of ripping up GM crops in southern France.
The question is already set to go before France's Council of State after the General Association of Corn Producers (AGPM) warned in late January that they would challenge the ruling there.
With the law requiring a hearing within three weeks, corn producers could still plant the variety of GM corn this spring if France's highest administrative court supports their appeal, said AGPM director Luc Esprit.
The association estimates the ban would cause farmers losses of some 10 million euros (15 million dollars).
France officially imposed the ban with the publication of an agriculture ministry order in the state's official journal.
"The growing of corn seeds ... derived from genetically modified corn strain MON810 is prohibited on [French] territory," read the order, signed by Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier.
Last year, 22,000 hectares (55,000 acres) were sown with the product -- less than one percent of the sown acreage for corn in France.
The French government began moves for a ban last month after a watchdog authority said it had "serious doubts" about the product.
Chairman Jean-Francois Le Grand, who also holds a seat in the Senate, said evidence had emerged that MON810 had an effect on insects, a species of earthworm and micro-organisms.
There was also concern that wind-borne pollen from MON810 could travel much further than previously thought -- perhaps as much as hundreds of miles (kilometres), said Le Grand.
But the report remains controversial: 12 of the 15 scientists who compiled it issued a statement complaining that Le Grand had misrepresented their findings.
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