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French maize farmers seen embracing GM, eventually

(Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- David Evans, Reuters, 09/18/03: LE MANS, France - French maize farmers will be swift in adopting new genetically modified (GM) strains once regulatory hurdles are swept away under European Union law in the pipeline, officials from the main growers' association said on Thursday.

Some maize varieties are already approved under EU law, but a de facto moratorium on new clearances since 1999 has effectively kept commercial cultivation to a minimum and blocked imports from the United States, an embargo that corn farmers there say costs them hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

"It certainly won't happen next year. But once it takes off, I see exponential growth in their use and it will happen quite quickly," Gregoire Berthe, president of maize seed growers union SEPROMA, said.

U.S. farmers have embraced GM maize and soya crops bred to be resistant to herbicides and reducing the need for costly spraying programmes.

With new EU legislation on the traceability and labelling of products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) fast nearing the statute books, farmers are looking ahead to planting new varieties, setting the stage for a battle with high-profile anti-GM campaigners such as Jose Bove.

Bove, whose actions have ensured that consumer scepticism of the new biotech technology runs high in France, also faces opposition from many of the country's top scientists.

Around 1,500 of them, including two Nobel Prize winners, have signed a petition demanding an end to the wilful destruction of GM field trials, a crime that has already put Bove in prison.


Speaking at the annual conference of the French maize growers' association AGPM, Berthe said the maize varieties approved so far under EU legislation were not totally suited to the needs of French farmers, but more were waiting in the wings.

He said the initial GM take-up by farmers would be limited by the speed at which new "farmer-friendly" varieties can reach the commercial market.

The new strains would not suit all farmers, he told Reuters, and their use will be limited to those geographical regions where they gave the farmer an economic advantage.

He declined to predict a percentage of farmers who could plant transgenic maize in five year's time, but compared the potential rate of adoption with the United States, where much of the corn harvest is devoted to GM varieties.

The only EU country to grow GM maize commercially on any scale is Spain, where it is used in animal feed production.

New strains of maize are known to be at the forefront of products awaiting to be assessed by the EU scientific panel charged with granting clearances for domestic planting, import and incorporation in food and animal feed products.

Under the new laws, products will have to be labelled and manufacturers will have to keep supply chain records to allow products to be traced back to their ingredients in the event of a food, health or environmental scare.