31 August 2001

Another French GM trial site attacked

By Philip Clarke

Europe editor

ENVIRONMENTAL activists have continued to wreak havoc on genetically modified crop trial sites in France, echoing the problems that beset the UK biotech industry last year.

The latest incident occurred on Tuesday (Aug 28), when a group of campaigners, led by the radical French farmers group the Confederation Paysanne, cut down a plot of GM maize in the Gers departement of south-west France and dumped the remnants around a fountain in the regional capital of Auch.

This was the sixth such attack this summer and followed a similar incident at Cleon dAndran in the south-east last weekend.

That maize was on trial for private French biotech company, Biogemma, which plans to take legal action against the perpetrators. It accused them of "deliberately trying to damage the research capacities of Frances independent seed companies" while "hiding behind the alibi of fighting the big multinationals".

An increase in the environmentalists activities had been expected since the Confederation Paysanne issued a statement at the end of July giving the public authorities until Aug 12 to stop all field trials. "Thereafter, the confederation and other groups will call for the destruction of these trials," it warned.

Activists have had an easier time in identifying trial sites in France, since the government was forced to disclose the full list of about 100 districts conducting GM experiments in June.

Anti-GM feelings were raised earlier this month when it emerged that Belgian researchers had discovered a previously unknown strand of DNA in Monsantos Roundup Ready Soya.

Despite reassurances from Brussels that it posed no risk to human health or the environment, Greenpeace was quick to condemn Monsanto for its "embarrassing inaccuracies". "The only adequate reaction regulatory bodies could have is to suspend the GMO approval and re-evaluate its environmental and health impact," said a spokesperson.

But Monsanto has dismissed the suggestion, accusing Greenpeace of operating to a "narrow political agenda". "There is really nothing new about the DNA fragment," said a statement. "It has been in the soybeans (though undetected) since the early 1990s when the seed was first developed. It remained there as the soybeans passed every safety test international regulators could throw at it."

Monsanto says it became aware of the fragment last year, after improvements in the techniques for detecting DNA. &#42