France's latest attempt to keep genetically modified (GM) crops from its fields has been rebuked by a scientific panel at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Yesterday, EFSA issued an opinion dismissing France's argument that a GM maize variety produced by Monsanto might be harmful to the environment or human health.

The opinion is the latest blow in a long-running battle over MON810, also known as YieldGard, whose cultivation has been banned in a handful of European countries despite its approval by the European Commission in 1998. The French government, faced with strong public opposition to GM crops, banned Mon810 in 2008 under a so-called "safeguard clause" that gives countries some leeway to duck European rules. EFSA rejected the measure later that year, and in 2011, France's Council of State also ruled that the prohibition was out of line.
Corn Borer
© Keith Weller/U.S. Department of AgricultureDefensive maize. MON810 produces a toxin that protects it from the European corn borer.

In February, France again asked the European Commission for permission to ban MON810, armed with a new scientific dossier. In it, the French government argues, among other things, that Cry1Ab, a protein produced by MON810 to ward off maize stalk borers, could hurt non-target species such as bees and butterflies, and that it could linger in the soil. But in yesterday's report, EFSA's Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms said the file contains some of the same evidence France presented - and EFSA rejected - in 2008; in the remainder, the panel "could not identify any new science-based evidence indicating that maize MON 810 cultivation in the EU poses a significant and imminent risk to the human and animal health or the environment."

Given recent history, EFSA's decision is "not really a surprise," AFP quoted a spokesperson for European health Commissioner John Dalli as saying. The commission is considering its next move, but "technically, we could now demand that France lift its ban," the spokesperson said.