France: National GM crop situation, the MON810 ban

France: National bans of GM crops

France invoked an emergency measure to prohibit the cultivation of maize MON 810, but its “evidence“ was rejected by EFSA. This ban was then declared illegitimate by the French State Council in August 2013. However the French Government adopted another decree in March 2014 banning again the cultivation of maize MON 810.. France never fulfilled the legal conditions to impose the ban, but the ban remains in place unchallenged. Before the current emergency measure France invoked a safeguard clause to ban the same product. Also in that case EFSA rejected the “evidence” submitted by France.

French ban of genetically modified maize line MON810

Use: Cultivation

Legal ground for ban quoted: Article 34 of Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003

  • Ban: On 20 February 2012, France provided to the European Commission a scientific argumentation in support of its request for the prohibition of the placing on the market of the genetically modified maize MON 810 according to Article 34 of Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003. This communication was followed by the publication on 16 March 2012 of a national decree banning genetically modified maize MON 810. On 1 August 2013 this decree was declared void by the French highest judicial authority who cancelled the moratorium on the cultivation of MON810 maize since no sound scientific evidence was provided and the ban on cultivation was so to be considered as an infringement of the EU law. On 14 March 2014 the Ministry of Agriculture issued a new decree banning the cultivation of Maize MON 810. In addition France’s lower house of parliament adopted a project of law on 16 April 2014 prohibiting the cultivation of any variety of genetically modified maize. This project was then approved by the Senate.
  • EFSA:  On 25 March 2014, the European Commission requested the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to assess the supporting documentation submitted by France. Following this request on 1 August 2014 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that, based on the documentation submitted, there is no specific scientific evidence, in terms of risk to human and animal health or the environment, that would support the adoption of an emergency measure on the cultivation of maize MON 810 under Article 34 of Regulation (EC) 1829/2003. On 7 May 2012 the EFSA GMO Panel adopted an identical opinion on the previous documentation submitted by France.

Reactions European Commission, European Court of Justice, national courts

  • Failure to fulfill the legal requirement: The ban was in place since 2012 although France never provided detailed grounds for considering that genetically modified maize MON 810 constitute a risk to human health or environment.
  • No submission to Member States Committee: The French emergency measure was adopted without fully following the procedure under article 34 of Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003. According to this article the European Commission is the only body which is competent to adopt emergency measures. Member States have a residual competence and therefore they can adopt interim measures only in the case the Commission has failed to act. The interim measure adopted by the Members State must then be approved by the other Member States. In the case of the emergency measure of March 2012 France adopted the national emergency measure before the opinion of EFSA. In addition the European Commission did not submit the French measure to the other Member States for approval.  Additional information on the French emergency measure can be found in M.KUNTZ, J.DAVISON, A.E. RICROCH “What the French ban of Bt MON810 maize means for science-based risk assessment” Nature Biotechnology 31, 498–500 (2013). In case of the decree of 14 March 2014 neither the European Commission nor the EFSA have taken into account the French measure yet.
  • First French safeguard clause: On 9 February 2008, France had already notified to the European Commission an order suspending the cultivation of seed varieties derived from the genetically modified maize event MON810 invoked under Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC. In addition on 13 February 2008, France notified to the European Commission a note entitled ‘Emergency measure’ under Article 34 of Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003
  • EFSA rejection of the first French safeguard clause: The European Commission requested the EFSA to assess the package of documents supporting and justifying the French safeguard clause. On 31 October 2008 the Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms of EFSA concluded that there was no new scientific evidence that would invalidate the previous risk assessments of maize MON810 which came to the conclusion that MON810 is as safe as conventional maize.
  • Failure of the EC action against the first French safeguard clause: On February 2009 the European Commission proposed to the Standing Committee of Member States a draft decision to repeal the ban. France supported by ten other Member States, requested a postponement of the vote until the end of the procedure of renewal of the authorization of maize MON810.
  • National ruling on the first French safeguard clause: In November 2011 the French ban was considered illegitimate by the French Conseil d’Etat
  • ECJ ruling on the first French safeguard clause: In the September 2011 also the European Court of Justice was called to give a preliminary ruling on the French ban. In this ruling the ECJ clarified that under the procedure of Article 34 of Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 Member States have to prove the existence of a situation which is likely to constitute a clear and serious risk to human health, animal health or the environment.


General situation for GM crops in France

Pilot survey conducted by Dr. Marcel Kuntz, Laboratoire de Physiologie Cellulaire Végétale, CNRS, and Dr. Agnès Ricroch, Claire Piotrowski, Thomas Guilbert and Clelia Bianchi of the Université Paris-Sud, France, in collaboration with the Association Française des Biotechnologies Végétales (AFBV, France,  

General: France is the European Union’s leading agricultural producer and exporter, accounting for about 17 per cent of all agricultural land within the EU-27. The share of agriculture value-added in GDP has shown a steady decline since the early 1980s, representing less than 1.7 per cent of the country’s GDP in 2010.

Key crops

Wheat (5.4 million ha); maize (2.9 million ha); barley (1.6 million ha); oilseed rape (1.5 million ha); grapevine (783 000 ha); sunflower (694 000 ha); sugarbeet (380 000 ha). These key crops face stagnating yields due to increasing water scarcity, insect pests (particularly in oilseed rape and maize), and fungal diseases (e.g., mildew in grapevines).

R&D efforts

At the R&D level, although some GM research continues in France, this is hampered by the lack of clarity around the decision-making process, and the fact that field trials have been systematically destroyed by activists, including public research experiments. Public plant breeding programs now focus on alternative approaches. Once leading bioscience companies, such as Limagrain, have gradually moved their research and field trials out of France.

Regulatory situation

Although approved for cultivation under EU Directives, the French government formally suspended the authorization of GM insect-resistant maize in 2008. The EU Court of Justice and the highest French judicial authority have ruled against this decision in 2011, yet a re-authorization is not expected in the near future. Applications for field trials have not been submitted in the last 2-3 years.

Experiences of farmers

Before the ban in GM maize, farmers reported average yield gains of 7-10 per cent (in some cases up to 30 per cent) and better grain quality with reduced levels of mycotoxins (up to 60 per cent less).