Seen as a collaboration between the French administration and the general public, the summit has gathered environmentalists, industry representatives, government agencies, individual politicians and private participants since July. The “Grenelle” currently is collecting public and administrative opinions and suggestions for action and legislation. For this purpose, public consultation forums will be organised in sixteen cities throughout the country as well as an online consultation.
Basic changes in French agricultural policy appear likely. Headed by Senator Jean-François Le Grand, a working group on GMOs has suggested new legislation fundamentally oriented towards the precepts of transparency and of freedom of choice for farmers and for consumers. In addition to specific coexistence regulations, it is expected that such laws also would enact the ‘causer’ principle, under which users of GMOs retain ultimate responsibility for the control of their crops.
Further suggestions include the enhancement of all areas of research on biotechnology and its effects in France, as well as the establishment of an independent national advisory body. Addressing biotechnology in general, such an agency also specifically would deliver counsel to the French government on risk assessment, approval procedures, socio-economic effects and surveillance of GMOs. It is expected to unite advisors from the areas of ecology, toxicology, genetics, molecular biology, epidemiology, demographics and agronomy.
The French Minister for the Environment, Jean-Louis Borloo, sparked debate in September by citing problems in the containment of GM maize and hinted at a national moratorium on the use of GMOs. Upon protests from representatives of the farming, seed producing and grain processing industries, the Minister for Agriculture, Michel Barnier, issued a reminder that no policy changes yet have been made.
New agricultural policies may exert influence even beyond French borders. Notably, French representatives to the Council of Ministers abstained from voting on the EU import approval of three GM maize lines in September. A French veto could hinder current negotiations on the extension of approval for MON810 maize, the only GM maize approved to date for cultivation in the EU.
At the end of October, President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to announce national positions and administrative plans towards the environment in general and towards biotechnology in particular.