[FR] AFSSA clears MON810, but the ban remains

In a report published by 'Le Figaro' on February 11, 2009, the Agence française de securité sanitaire des aliments (AFSSA) has declared the genetically modified maize MON810 to be safe to health. The French government stated its intention nonetheless to retain the current ban on the cultivation of Bt maize MON810.

Developed by the American Monsanto company, MON810 is approved for cultivation in the EU. However, the French administration had prohibited the planting of GM plants in 2007. In doing so, it cited a single scientist and invoked the principle of consumer protection with regard to existing uncertainties about the safety of GM plants.

The AFSSA provides advice to the French government. According to 'Figaro', the agency determined in January that the report upon which the national ban was based contained "no new element that would question the safety" of the maize in question with regard to human or animal health.

In response, the French prime minister, François Fillon, reconfirmed governmental doubts about MON810 in Brussels on 12 February and declared continued support for the ban. Mr Fillon pointed out that while the AFSSA report only addresses the issue of health, the French government remains concerned about possible effects of the plant on the environment.

European institutions repeatedly have stated that national cultivation bans of Bt maize violate common European law. The 'safeguard' clause in EU legislation allows the provisional implementation of a national ban, but a prerequisite for such action is the discovery of new risks to human health or to the environment.

According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), in no case of prohibition has scientific evidence been presented that would challenge the existing EU approvals or justify the use of a safeguard. The EFSA has therefore declared the bans on MON810 in France and Greece, as well as on MON810 and T25 in Austria and Hungary, to be unfounded.

Consequently, the Commission has submitted a draft decision to the EU Council of Ministers to declare the bans invalid. In the recent vote on the bans in France and Greece, the Standing Committee was unable to achieve a qualified majority of Member States. In the case that the Council is unable to effect a decision, the Commission will apply its draft decision. Thereafter, national bans on the cultivation of MON810 in the EU would be inadmissible.


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