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2-Plants: French maize farmer sees more GMO converts

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  French maize farmer sees more GMO converts
SOURCE: New Brisbane's News, Australia, by Muriel Boselli
        Posted by Checkbiotech, Switzerland
DATE:   19 Sep 2005

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French maize farmer sees more GMO converts

PARIS - When Pierre, a 50-year-old French maize farmer, was offered the
chance to grow his first genetically-modified (GMO) crops, he jumped at
the chance and predicts many others will soon follow suit.

Such is the sensitivity surrounding GMOs in a country where test fields
of GMO maize and rapeseed are regularly ripped up, Pierre told only his
family and the local mayor of his plans.

"Before I decided to grow GMO maize there was a lot of debate in my
family," the farmer in southwest France told Reuters by telephone,
declining to give his full name.

With around 50 hectares sown to conventional maize, Pierre decided to
take part in a program organized by France's maize growers association
(AGPM) to study the effects of growing traditional and GMO varieties

"When I heard that the AGPM was looking for volunteers to carry out the
experiments, I jumped straight for it," he said.

He agreed to grow one hectare of GMO maize, which although part of an
experiment, will be sold commercially to the animal feed industry in
Spain, where GMOs are widely grown and used by feed compounders.

He said he expected more French farmers to start taking on new maize
types soon. "Each time farmers try out GM crops, they really see the
benefits," he said.

Pierre is one of around 40 to 50 maize growers in the region, who
declared commercial GMO plantings of some 500 hectares. The maize was one
of the varieties approved by the European Commission before its
unofficial moratorium on new authorizations came into effect in 1998.

Although the moratorium was lifted last year, no new strains have yet
been approved for commercial growing. In or before 1998, approval was
given for 18 biotech plants, including maize, rapeseed, chicory and soybeans.

Some, like Pierre, are part of the AGPM program, others are just growing
it commercially.

But the precise number of farmers who have opted for gene-spliced crops
is difficult to pin down because of a legal vacuum in France, which means
farmers are not yet legally obliged to declare the new strains.

The government is planning legislation soon that will force farmers to
declare such sowings in the future.

Pierre admits he did not divulge his plant to his neighbour, who grows
conventional maize 100 meters from his GMO plants.

News that France had begun growing small amounts of GMO maize
commercially came as a shock to many in the country and made front-page
news in national newspapers. Most people thought plantings were
restricted to government-sponsored test fields.

Pierre said that one of his main motivations was to prove that
traditional and GMO varieties of maize could co-exist without cross-
pollination or contamination.

"The test results show there is less than 0.9 percent of GMO
contamination in the conventional maize plants which are growing 25
meters away from the GMO crops," he said.

Lower costs were also a reason, he added.

"I decided to sow one hectare of GM maize of the Bt variety to save money
on spraying insecticides," he said, adding that the lower chemical usage
also helped protect the environment.

"This time I was given the seeds by the AGPM but if they are not too
expensive I am prepared to sow up to 35 hectares of GMO maize on my 50
hectares," he added.

"However, public opinion needs to change before we can really start using
genetically modified maize because it's one thing to grow them but it's
another to find commercial outlets for it," he added.

He said that while many farmers were eagerly awaiting new strains of
maize to be approved by the European Commission, he accepted why
authorities and the public had to be cautious.

"I understand the European Commission's slowness and it's completely
normal that consumers hold so much power," he said.


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