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Uproar as anti-GM activists acquitted in France

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.

Comments

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    Steve Savage said:

    The destruction of this experiment was one of the most absurd events imaginable. The purpose of the experiment was to potentially restore some prime French vineyard sites to productivity by using a rootstock resistant to a virus transmitted by a nematode which had rendered those soils permanently unsuitable. This was about Terroir – something you think the French would care about! The only “GMO” plant was under ground with normal grapes grafted on top. All the grapes of Europe are planted on rootstocks of North American grape species. No one worries about those as a source of “contamination” even though they have hundreds of genes that are different from those in the treasured cultivars. The reason is that grapes are not grown from seeds so even if a rootstock ever bloomed it would be a non-issue. There was a ZERO chance of any problem, but that did nothing to stop the irrational destruction of the vineyard. Remember when you hear this described as Frankenfood, the bad guys in that book were in the angry mob. Thats the same situation here.

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    Philip Hu said:

    The court decision is not so much about science as it about democracy and the rule of law. A government agency conducted operations in an open field, and had an affirmative duty exists to evaluate the risks – and they did not do so. Legal professionals eminently qualified to rule on legal obligations found that IRA failed on that respect. ‘Progress’ or the asserted social benefits of the technology is no excuse for illegality – on either side.

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