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Cablegate: France Reevaluates Biotech Policy; Much at Stake

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RR RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLZ RUEHROV
DE RUEHFR #4170/01 2771427
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 041427Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY PARIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0652
RUEHRC/USDA FAS WASHDC
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES
RUEHMRE/AMCONSUL MARSEILLE 1913
RUEHSR/AMCONSUL STRASBOURG 0491
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 2744
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PARIS 004170

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

USDA FOR ACTING SECRETARY CONNER AND DEP U/S TERPSTRA
FAS FOR ADMINISTRATOR YOST

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR SENV ETRD EU FR
SUBJECT: FRANCE REEVALUATES BIOTECH POLICY; MUCH AT STAKE

REF: (A) PARIS 4139 (B) PARIS 3970 (C) PARIS 3967

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1.(SBU) Summary: A moratorium or ban on planting biotech corn could
be the signature outcome of France's national environmental policy
review this month. Such a move would violate both WTO and EU
requirements, but the Sarkozy Administration may be looking for a
high-profile green initiative to balance its strong pro-nuclear
policy and a "pro-American" foreign policy. French farmers and seed
companies are pushing back and the Mission Country Team is lobbying
GOF counterparts before raising the issue to ministerial level. End
Summary

2. (SBU) The Sarkozy Administration's national environmental policy
dialogue (the "Grenelle") is one of its signature initiatives.
Agriculture and biotechnology figure prominently in the process.
Most proposals emanating from the Grenelle dialogue are not overly
controversial, but biotech is emerging as the wedge issue. Minister
of State Borloo, leading the process, told parliamentarians in a
widely reported statement that GMOs could not be controlled and
posed unacceptable risks. Center left "Le Monde" reported that the
GOF would ban commercial sales of biotech seeds. The chair of the
Grenelle's biotech committee explained that a moratorium rather than
a ban was envisioned pending new biotech legislation.

3.(SBU) Borloo's statement blindsided Agriculture Minister Barnier
who was booed off the stage at a major conclave of farmers the same
day. The FNSEA farmers' union as well as GNIS, the seed
association, walked out of the following session of the Grenelle
working group, and were brought back in only after Borloo
backtracked assuring the Farm Union FNSEA, that President Sarkozy
will make any final decisions, after the report from the "Grenelle"
is published, likely in late fall.

4. (SBU) The "Grenelle" biotech working group published its
preliminary conclusions on September 27. The report is subject to
debate and comment for the next several weeks. Its principal
recommendations were:

-- a new biotech law (which the GOF will need in any event to comply
with the EU coexistence directive) based on freedom of choice to
produce and consume with or without GMOs;

-- incorporation of the "polluter pays" principle with regard to
contamination of crops by transgenic material, without specifying
whether farmers or seed companies would be deemed the "polluters";
and

-- creation of a single "High Biotech Authority" incorporating a
range of scientific expertise and additional expertise from civil
society groups.

5.(SBU) The working group report also stressed that the 0.9 percent
threshold for biotech content in the EU labeling requirement for
food and feed had no particular scientific basis. The group
highlighted that no threshold had yet been established for labeling
of planting seeds. French seed industry representatives were quick
to assert that the 0.9 percent threshold was set by the European
Union and applies to all member states and both the seed industry
and farm union officials threatened to sue the GOF at the European
Court of Justice (ECJ) should the GOF set a lower threshold.

6. (SBU) French biotech corn production (all MON 810) rose from
5,000 hectares in 2006 to over 21,000 hectares in the 2007 planting
season. While farmers and seed companies have kept a very low
profile on this shift, the Grenelle process has raised the stakes
substantially. On October 3, a coalition representing 325,000
farmers published an open letter to President Sarkozy in major
national papers. The letter appeals to the President not to give in
to the GMO fear-mongers, noting that authorized GMOs pose no health
risk and reduce pesticide usage and therefore contribute to "green
growth."

7. (SBU) Farm organizations also said they would sue if the GOF
imposed a moratorium. Given that national bans of EU-approved
varieties are WTO illegal (the EC reiterated its opposition to
national biotech bans the day after the "Le Monde" revelation,
underscoring that the ECJ had recently condemned Austria's biotech
ban), the GOF might opt to accomplish the same result by suspending
sales of MON 810 seeds pending scientific review or enacting a
biotech law that would make its production economically unviable.

8. (SBU) In the short term, a biotech ban or moratorium would cut

PARIS 00004170 002.2 OF 002


U.S. seed exports, now running $30-50 million annually. More
significantly, it would signal an about-face from a science-oriented
approach by France on EU biotech issues including US corn exports.
France is a driver of EU farm and agricultural trade policy and will
assume the Presidency in July 2008. Embassy Country Team members
are coordinating with U.S. seed companies and are calling on a
variety of GOF officials to express our concerns before raising the
issue to Ministerial level.

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