GM maize

Monsanto has scrapped plans to sell its insect-resistant maize in France, in a move seen by commentators as a second blow for GM crops in Europe within a week.

The announcement comes after Germany’s BASF said last week it would move its GM development plant science research from Europe to the US.

Monsanto said it would not resume sales of MON810, a maize genetically modified to improve pest resistance, despite a French court ruling in November that overturned a 2008 government ban on its sale.

However, despite the court’s decision to annul the ban after finding it had not produced enough evidence that MON810 posed a significant risk to health or the environment, the French government insisted earlier this month it would not allow the cultivation of the biotech maize.

Backed by President Sarkozy, the French government first banned MON810 in 2008 as a “serious risk to the environment”. The crop is genetically modified to produce toxins that kill insects.

Five other EU countries – Germany, Greece, Austria, Luxemburg and Hungary – also ban MON810 cultivation.

Now Monsanto has announced that it would not be selling seeds for MON810 in France this year.

“Monsanto considers that favourable conditions for the sale of the MON810 in France in 2012 and beyond are not in place,” the US biotech company said in a statement.

Mark Buckingham, spokesman for Monsanto UK, said that Monsanto had not sold MON810 seed in France since spring 2007, almost five years ago. The last field trials were in 2008.

“For 2012 and in the foreseeable future Monsanto has no plans to sell MON810 in France, unless both French farmers and the French government support sales,” he said.

“Monsanto invests to offer GM traits wherever a choice of GM has broad support among farmers and government, leading to a stable business and regulatory environment for innovation.

“This is not the case in France at this time. Until France has a stable business and regulatory environment based on sound science, commercialising GM technology is not practical for Monsanto.”

The statement follows protests from anti-GM protesters outside a shareholders meeting at one of Monsanto’s plants in southwestern France on Tuesday (24 January).

The activists claimed that Monsanto was about to sell MON810 to French farmers ahead of spring sowings, whereas the US company said GM seeds stored at its French plants were aimed at export markets.

Consumers in France, the EU’s largest grain producer, are strongly opposed to GM crops, which are widely grown in countries such as the US and Brazil, but not in the UK.

Anti-GM campaigners said they were pleased with the decision.

GM Freeze campaign director Pete Riley said: This is yet another indication that science underpinning the EU approvals process does not have the confidence of most citizens.”

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