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French court: destroying field trials, a ‘necessity’

A lobbying group for French biotech companies has reacted angrily to the surprising acquittal of 49 activists who had demolished field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops, south of Paris.

The activists, one of whom is the deputy mayor of Paris in charge of environmental issues, in 2004 and 2005 uprooted maize fields in the Loiret region, planted by Lyon-based Monsanto Agriculture France.

On December 9, 2005, a judge in Orléans ruled the activists had acted in a ‘state of necessity’ to prevent GM ‘contaminated’ seeds from harming the environment. According to the judge, directives from the European Union concerning the accidental spread of GM organisms have been ‘imperfectly’ translated into French law, leaving out requirements for a detailed evaluation of risks for the environment. Anti-GM activists have been destroying GM field experiments in France for years; this is the first time a French judge has acquitted them. One month earlier, on November 15, 2005, a leading anti-GM activist, José Bové, was sentenced to four months in jail.

According to Philippe Pouletty, president of the bioindustry organization France Biotech, the latest ruling will not substantially affect the French biotech industry because crop damage is not widespread. According to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, in 2005 French field trials covered 23.3 hectares, whereas commercial growers declared less than 500 hectares of GM crops. Nevertheless, both the public prosecutor and Monsanto announced they would appeal.

Meanwhile, the European Commission in December 20, 2005, sent its final written warnings to France and Germany for failing to fully integrate an EU directive on the environmental release of GM organisms into their national law.

doi:10.1038/nbt0206-123

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