One of France’s top courts has thrown out a ban on genetically modified corn, which had been in place since March 2012, leaving the door open for Monsanto’s GMO seed to be introduced into the country’s farmland.
The decision by the top administrative court on Thursday argued that the moratorium on the GMO MON810 corn, one of two types of genetically altered crops approved by the European Union, lacked legal basis, reports AFP.
According to the Council of State court, a ban "can only be taken by a member state in case of an emergency or if a situation poses a major risk" to the health of people or animals, or to the environment.
The EU, which arguably has the most restrictive GMO regulations in the world, requires extensive testing and evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority before authorizing any genetically modified products.
The EU approved Monsanto’s MON810 corn in 1998 for a period of 10 years, and the biotech giant applied in 2007 for that period to be extended, although Brussels has yet to make a final decision on the matter. In the meantime, MON810 is currently being cultivated in small scale within countries such as Spain and Portugal that are more receptive to GMOs, which are widely rejected within the Eurozone.
France’s Agriculture Minister Stephane LE Foll has said that his government opposes genetically modified crops, and suggested that they will seek other legal routes to halt their use.
The court’s overturn of the MON810 corn ban is only the latest phase in a long-running dispute between the agriculture sector and French public opinion, which is highly critical of GMOs in general.
In September of last year Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced that France would be maintaining its ban on the GMO maize after a previous moratorium was thrown out by a top court in November.
Likewise, France is sensitive to the use of chemicals on its crop as well. Last year a French court found Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning based on a case from a farmer in Lyon, who claimed to have suffered neurological damage caused by one of the biotech’s weedkillers.
Frustrated by the EU’s GMO approval process, Monsanto withdrew all pending approval requests for new types of GMO crops in July.
"We will be withdrawing the approvals in the coming months," said Monsanto's President and Managing Director for Europe, Jose Manuel Madero.
Facing inhospitable public opinion of their GMO products German biotech company BASF also halted the development of new crops in 2011, and moved its entire European GMO research operations to the United States.
Germany along with France and Italy have all imposed national bans on GMOs, though Germany permitted Amflora, a potato modified with higher levels of starch, for industrial purposes. Other EU countries with bans and cultivation on GMOs include Austria, Luxembourg and Hungary. In May, Hungary went so far as to burn 1,200 acres of GMO corn after its government became aware of the banned crop.