Posted on behalf of Barbara Casassus.
French scientists are up in arms over the recent court acquittal of 54 activists who destroyed 70 experimental genetically modified (GM) grapevines in eastern France in August 2010.
Twelve leading research agencies and university organizations released a joint statement on Monday expressing their “serious concern” over the consequences of the Colmar Appeal Court’s decision to throw out the case, and urging clarification of the relevant laws and regulations.
The statement noted that “the protection of experiments in controlled conditions is no longer assured”, and this was the first court ruling since the law increased the ceiling on sanctions for destroying non-commercial experimental crops. More than 200 public meetings were held on the trials, which were conducted by French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) to test for protection against court-noué, the grapevine fanleaf virus.
The court described the greenhouse field trials as illegal because INRA had not proved that the vines would cause no health or environmental damage. The daily newspaper Le Figaro quotes the defendants’ lawyer Jérôme Bouquet-Elaïm as saying “our position is not to condemn research” but to stop scientists from not respecting the right procedures.
The defendants were initially given a two-month suspended prison sentence in 2011, and were ordered to pay €57,000 (US$78,000) in damages to INRA, which they have since done.
Higher education and research secretary of state Geneviève Fioraso told the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, today that she endorsed the research organizations’ joint statement. “It is important in a spirit of scientific progress and risk control that circumscribed research can be carried out in all safety,” she said during government question time. Failing that, “we risk discouraging research”, she said.
The case is not over, however, as the public prosecutor has taken the case to the Court of Cassation, France’s highest criminal and civil appeal court.