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France Urged to Permit Genetically Modified Corn

(CN) - European Union member countries should not be allowed to unilaterally invoke a safeguard clause to ban the planting of genetically modified food, an adviser to Europe's high court said.

Advocate General Paolo Mengozzi issued an opinion that France erred in its 2008 ban of a genetically modified strain of corn.

Agricultural giant Monsanto Corp. developed the corn, genetically altered to be especially resistant to insects. The EU authorized its cultivation for animal feed in 1998.

When Monsanto applied for renewal of the authorization in 2007, France invoked a safeguard clause on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). After forbidding import, France in 2008 also forbade cultivation of the altered maize.

The Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union stepped in as multiple parties challenged the ban.

Court adviser Mengozzi asserted that GMOs are to be allowed under EU regulations, which includes an environmental impact assessment and streamlined renewal procedures.

The safeguard clause should be invoked only within this framework, Mengozzi said. Member states can usurp authority as an exception to the rule, for example to establish a preliminary regulation when the European Commission fails to act.

And such action is limited to cases of high risk of harm, Mengozzi continued. This risk cannot be merely hypothetical, although such an assessment may still be based in the precautionary principle, he said.

Justification of GMO bans must be decided on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration all costs and benefits, Mengozzi concluded.

The European Union has been considering giving member states more leeway to decide their position on growing genetically modified crops. But a renewal of Monsanto's corn would make it hard for individual nations to resist. Besides France, six other EU countries maintain such a ban.

The European Commission last year approved the planting of a potato genetically modified by German chemical company BASF for enhanced starch production. Some varieties of genetically modified cotton, corn, rapeseed and soy are allowed to be cultivated in the EU. One type of GMO sugar beet is also allowed, and other genetically modified organisms are allowed to be imported.

As GMO policy is decided in Europe, a battle over genetically modified sugar beets - also developed by Monsanto - is shaping up in the United States.

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