The French Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries says that GM crops are legally authorised following rigorous evaluation to demonstrate that they pose no risk to health and the environment. However to date the only GM plant approved for commercial cultivation in France (it was approved by the EU in 1998) is Monsanto's Bt-Maize MON810, which is resistance to the corn borer.
Association Generale de Producteurs de Mais (AGPM) said that in recent years there has been a marked extension in the geographic reach of the principal air-born pests across France. Humid conditions in summer 2006 meant that two or three generations of pests thrived and caused considerable damage in the south west and centre of the country.
This seems to have spurred interest in Monsanto's variety, which resists the corn borer by producing its own insecticide, a delta-endotoxin protein called Cry1Ab. It is claimed to be 99.6 per cent effective against the insects. Figures released by AGPM show that the first big leap in land devoted to cultivation of MON810 between 2005 and 2006 - from 500 to 5200 hectares.
APGM said that last year, as in 2005, 15 growers wishing to grow the crop took part in an introductory programme Programme d'Accompagnement de Cultures Issues des Biotechnologies.
The AGPM says that use of the GM variant in conditions where corn borers are present can make a difference of 3.5q/ha which, based on the average market price of €120 per tonne, justifies the higher cost of the GM variety which works out at around €40 euros more per hectare.
However anti-GM campaigners believe there is a higher price to pay, and that the environmental consequences of growing the crop are unknown.
Greenpeace claimed in 2005 the European Commission gave the green light to Monsanto's MON810 maize into the EU seed catalogue, without a comprehensive monitoring plan, since the plan provided was under the old EU directive that considered only the possibility of resistance to Bt-toxin in corn borer populations. Updated directive (2001/18/EC) was said to be more thorough.
Earlier this month the Official Journal of the EU published a number of orders on the commercial production of GM crops, and the provisions of EU directive 2001/18 have been transcribed into French law.
The AGPM drew attention to the implementation of a best practice guide for coexistence and traceability of GM and non-GM corn in 2004, and compliance with the prescribed limit of 0.9 per cent.
In addition, however, it is recommended that the distance between GM and non-GM crops should be twice that required for coexistence of conventional crops - that is, 50 metres.
Moreover, although it says that in the natural environment maize does not cross-pollinate with any other plant, information should be given to all maize growers whose crops may be near plots of GM maize.
The organization has set up an information and advisory service for maize growers and distributes the best practice guide to relevant parties.