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GMO corn: France rejects report by EU food agency

By AFP

France on Friday rejected a report by the European Union's food safety watchdog that said a controversial strain of genetically-modified corn was safe.

In a joint statement, the French ecology and agriculture ministries said the Italy-based European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) had failed to take into account requests to change the way it evaluated the risk.

"The conclusions of the council of European environment ministers must be respected," the statement said, referring to a December 4, 2008 decision, approved unanimously, that had called on the agency to overhaul its assessment methods.

France and five other EU members -- Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg -- have suspended sowing of Monsanto's MON810 maize, invoking safeguard clauses on the grounds of potential environmental hazard.

On Tuesday, EFSA's GMO panel declared that the product was safe both for health and the environment.

A gene inserted into the maize that makes it pest-resistant "does not raise any safety concern, and ... sufficient evidence for the stability of the genetic modification was provided," the panel said.

The French statement noted that 12 EU states had written to EFSA less than two months earlier.

On May 6, the 12 had called on the agency to ensure that safety assessments also cover any impact on other forms of wildlife and whether pests could develop resistance, as well as other criteria.

"The opinion given by EFSA [on Tuesday] could not take these methods into account, as they were still being reviewed, with completion scheduled in 2010," the statement said.

Genetically-modified crops are widely grown in North America, South America and China.

But in Europe they have run into fierce resistance, led by green groups who say the crops carry risks through cross-pollination, potentially creating "super-weeds" that are impervious to herbicides.

Only a handful of genetically modified crops have been approved for cultivation in the European Union, but of them only MON810, approved in 1998, is so far being grown.

The MON810 case has become a source of transatlantic friction. The United States has warned Europe against using environmental issues as an excuse for protectionism.

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