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The French High Council of Biotechnologies (HCB) recently published two documents as a result of its more than one year study of GMO coexistence. One of these is by the Scientific Committee of HCB (CS) and the other by the Socio-economic and Ethical Committee of HCB (CEES).
Subsequently, the French government issued:
- a “décret” for labelling of food and feed as GMO-free (“sans-OGM”) with a threshold of 0.1%, which is not in use elsewhere in Europe.
- and notified the European Commission of an “Arrêté” on GMO coexistence in France, which instates a 50 meter separation of GMO and non-GMO maize plantations. The government simultaneously claimed that GMO cultivation will not be allowed and that the 2008 moratorium will continue.
The CEES, which had been presented by the government as an improved form of GMO evaluation, to be adopted for evaluation at the European level, exploded (a number of members resigned because of the dogmatism of 'green' organisations).
Non-Coexistence and Cacophony in the French High Council of Biotechnologies, by John Davison (former INRA researcher)
Attempts by the French High Council for Biotechnologies Socio-economic and Ethical Committee (HCB CEES) to make a recommendation on the coexistence of GMOs recently resulted in mass resignations dues to conflict between the pro-GMO and anti-GMO parties. At the same time the Ministries of Agriculture and of Ecology totally ignored a recommendation by the HCB Scientific Committee (HCB CS) and published an 'Arrêté' on GMO coexistence, as well as a 'Decree' for the GMO-free labelling of food and feed. The 'Arrêté' on GMO coexistence is in marked contrast to simultaneous statements by these same competent authorities that the GMO will not be grown in France. All is not well on the French GMO scene and this opinion attempts to analyse this peculiar situation.
Explanations (in French) by Marie-Angèle Hermitte (coordinator of the CEES report)
Comments by Jeanne Grosclaude (representing research personnel in CEES) who resigned from CEES
The resignation letter (in French) of FNSEA (National Federation of Farmers Union) and ANIA (National Association of Food Industries) sent to the Prime Minister
An ideological confrontation leading to transgenocidal views, by Marcel Kuntz
'GMO-free' product labeling implies tracking the mere presence of DNA (the parameter used to define the standards). Transgenic DNA is only found in trace amounts, and changes only marginally between 0.9% and 0.1% of adventitious presence of "GMOs".
In a transgenic plant, transgene DNA content is less than 0.1 per thousand of total amount of DNA. A threshold of 0.9% means that the amount of transgene DNA represents a value of about one ten-millionth (1/10 000 000) of the total plant DNA. And one hundred millionth for a threshold of 0.1%, which is meaningless.
More precisely, the term "genetic pollution" (often used by anti-GMO activists) attests that what is tracked down is 'dirty' DNA ... But there is no such thing as 'clean' or 'dirty' DNA: DNA is always composed of a sequence of four nucleotides and is chemically identical in all organisms.
Proposing consumers products of various origins is not an illegitimate trade (although without scientific basis in terms of safety). But ...
The transgenocidal views of the "GMO-free" activists stems from a confrontational strategy, ignoring the concepts of food safety and coexistence, and reveals a political project closer to certain racial theories than to a sound understanding of the nature of a gene.
A different ethical frame is possible, without tracking DNA, but by defining obligations of means for all food chain suppliers.