Happenings in France

February 2012

Maize field in France. Picture by Lucy.Bold on Flickr
The European Union has approved for cultivation only one GM crop specifically designed to enter the human food chain. This is Monsanto's MON 810 maize which has a bacterial gene inserted to produce 'Cry1Ab' insecticidal protein, and is used for animal feed.

The crop has a checkered history in Europe. Spain is the only country in which the maize has been planted on any scale, and Germany, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg and Hungary have banned it. The situation recently became further complicated by a European Court of Justice ruling that honey contaminated by GM pollen must be fully authorised as a novel product and labelled as such before it can be sold here.

In 2008, the French government slapped a three-year ban on MON 810 on the grounds that the maize posed a significant risk to health or the environment. Monsanto doesn't like anyone suggesting its GM crops aren't safe and appealed to the European Court of Justice and then to France's own highest court, the Council of State, to overturn the ban. The appeals were successful, with both institutions ruling that the ban was insufficiently justified in law because not enough evidence had been produced to support the claims.

And has the French government bowed to Monsanto, to the might of EU law, and to its own high court?

Not a bit. The French government simply insisted that it will still not allow cultivation of MON 810 maize.

Monsanto has taken an awful lot of convincing, but seems finally to have realised that “favourable conditions for the sale of the MON810 in France in 2012 and beyond are not in place”. It has, therefore announced it does not plant to sell the GM maize in France this year.

Interestingly, Monsanto has stated that it intends to limit itself to offering non-GMO seeds for the time being. The company clearly has non-GM seeds available, even while it's spending a fortune pushing GM ones no one wants.

And, in case you're wondering about the safety of MON 810 in light of the French government's inability to prove it's case, if you look at the evidence, you'll find there's very, very little to look at.

There is a single, standard, MON 810 90-day rat feeding study* commissioned by Monsanto and published in 2006 which claims to reveal no untoward effects. A re-analysis of the raw data from this study published in 2009, tells a different story. This, more critical, look at the evidence highlighted the fact that important biochemical measurements of liver function were not made; in other words, reactions to a toxin in the maize might well have been missed. The authors were also concerned that important markers of sex differences were not recorded: in light of the finding that female rats has a slight increase in kidney weight as seen in association with immune inflammatory processes, this omission may have been critical.

A short (31-day) study of newly-weaned male piglets, published last year, also recorded a slight increase in kidney weight.

*Note that the 90-day rodent feeding trial can provide a good first indication of signs of toxicity, but any differences apparent must be followed up with more detailed studies to establish what the actual toxic outcome might be.


The absence of long-term data and paucity of short-term studies of a crop which generates an artificial toxin are not reassuring.

Unlike its fellow biotech giant, BASF which has a very diversified business, Monsanto has put all its money on GM seed. Perhaps BASF's announcement, only one week earlier, of its intention to withdraw from GM crop development in Europe helped awaken Monsanto to the fact that forcing GM crops into European countries amounts to forcing money down the drain.

For more on BASF's surprise decision, check out HAPPENINGS IN GERMANY - February 2012

  • Monsanto says it won't sell GMO maize in France in 2012, Reuters, 24.01.12
  • Gordon Davidson, Monsanto's GM maize retreat, The Scottish Farmer, 26.01.12
  • Joël Siroux de Vendômois et al., 2009, A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health, International Journal of Biological Science 5
  • Raj Patel, Ignacio on BASF's Announcement to Move GMOs Out of Europe, Guest Blog by Ignacio Chapela
  • Hammond, et al., 2006, Results of a 90-day safety assurance study with rats fed grain from corn borer-protected corn, Food Chemistry Toxicology, 44
  • Walsh, et al., 2011, Effects of short-term feeding of Bt MON810 maize on growth performance, organ morphology and function in pig, British Journal of nutrition, 107
  • Which GM crops can be cultivated in the EU? The European Association for Bioindustries, 2011
  • EU Court of Justice: Contaminated honey needs GM authorisation, GM Freeze Press Release, 7.09.11

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