Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
of bioengineered soybeans in Europe and the protests by environmentalists such as
Greenpeace drew much media attention in France. The left-mainstream newspaper
Libération reported on the impending arrival with a front-page headline, “Watch Out
for Mad Soybeans.”2 This association between GM food and BSE continued to support
opponents over the subsequent years.
The French government, however, maintained its promotional stance; it pushed
for and achieved the EU authorization of the Swiss company Novartis's pest-resistant
Bt176 corn despite opposition from most member states. In early February 1997, France
approved the commercialization (i.e., import, sales, and consumption) of the maize,
with an ambiguous labeling requirement based on an EU law for novel food that did not
specify labeling criteria or methods.
Subsequent developments surrounding Bt176, both at the national and EU levels,
revealed the unsettled nature of risks of GM food. While the commercial release was
regulated at the EU level, cultivation of GMOs could be subjected to additional national
rules. In mid-February, Prime Minister Alain Juppé announced the controversial deci-
sion not to authorize the domestic cultivation of Bt176, invoking the precautionary
principle and dissemination risks.3 The decision created a peculiar situation, highlight-
ing ecological risks: Bt176 could be sold and consumed, but not grown, in France. This
symbolically significant official decision was quickly followed in April by the European
Parliament's resolution that expressed its nearly unanimous opposition against the com-
mercialization and cultivation of Bt176 due to its potential risks to public health and the
environment. Critical of the European Commission's stance, the resolution particularly
emphasized the food safety aspect of the issue, explicitly connecting GM food with the
“BSE crisis.”
Later in the same year, the Juppé decision was overturned by his successor, Lionel
Jospin. The Socialist Prime Minister announced the decision in November to autho-
rize the cultivation of Bt176. At the same time, Jospin's administration showed their cau-
tion about ecological risks by deciding not to authorize the cultivation of GM beet and
canola, crops more prone to cross-pollination with wild plants. The administration also
presented forthcoming policy measures to address public concerns by increasing trans-
parency, monitoring the ecological impact of authorized GMOs, and introducing label-
ing of food products containing traces of GMOs.
In 1998, GM food attracted increasing public attention as the opposition grew in scope
and visibility. While environmentalists remained central, consumer and farmer groups
also emerged at the forefront. Bt176's ecological risks were again highlighted in February
when Greenpeace France and Écoropa lodged an appeal to the Conseil d'Etat , France's
highest administrative court, against its cultivation authorization, arguing that the risk
assessment was insufficient. Moreover, as the issues of food safety and consumer choice
became increasingly more prominent in GM food debates, labeling and traceability
became a key policy and consumer issue. The major retail chain Carrefour secured a
GMO-free supply line and featured their non-GMO products in its in-store campaigns.
Meanwhile, direct action led by the farmer activist José Bové in January set in motion
the gradual broadening of the GM food debate beyond risk issues (Heller 2002). He and
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