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Cablegate: Food Fight in National Assembly Over Biotech Bill

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RR RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLZ RUEHROV
DE RUEHFR #0714/01 1061444
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 151444Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY PARIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2618
RUEHRC/USDA FAS WASHDC
RUEAUSA/HHS WASHDC
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 2861
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PARIS 000714

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

BRUSSELS PASS USEU FOR AGMINCOUNSELOR
STATE FOR OES; EUR/ERA; EEB/TPP/ABT/BTT (BOBO);
STATE PASS USTR FOR MURPHY/CLARKSON;
OCRA/CURTIS;
STA/JONES/HENNEY/SISSON;
EU POSTS PASS TO AGRICULTURE AND ECON
GENEVA FOR USTR, ALSO AGRICULTURE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR SENV ECON ETRD EU FR
SUBJECT: FOOD FIGHT IN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OVER BIOTECH BILL

REFS: (A) 2007 PARIS 4364; (B) PARIS 78; (C) PARIS 614

1. (SBU) Summary: On April 9 the National Assembly adopted
a new biotech bill by a vote of 249 to 228 (the narrowest margin
since President Sarkozy took office) after 36 hours of tense
debate. The bill, which will now go to the Senate for a
second reading, establishes a framework for biotech approval
and cultivation in France and completes transposition
of EU biotech legislation. The draft law provides for a new high
authority for biotech approval, with both scientific and
social-economic review panels, and stiffens penalties for
crop destruction.

2. (SBU) The rancourous debate in parliament clearly shows
the government has lost control of the issue, including within
its own party. Prospects for the future of commercial biotech
cultivation in France are uncertain at best. Despite passage
of the biotech bill, the 2008 corn planting season is lost and
there is little prospect of biotech cultivation before 2009 or
2010. The French government knows the EU faces retaliation at
the WTO for the slow pace of biotech approvals and illegal Member
State bans. Apparently, the French government understands this
is the price it may have to pay for maintaining its moratorium on
biotech cultivation. End Summary.

The Debate
----------

3. (SBU) A low point was reached when Junior Ecology Minister
Nathalie
Kosciusko-Morizet was forced by PM Fillon to apologize for calling
the debate Qa competition of cowards.Q Kosciusko-Morizet's remarks
were aimed at Jean-Francois Cope, the majority leader in the
National
Assembly, whom she accused of trying to mask differences within the
ruling UMP party, and Jean-Louis Borloo, Minister of the
Environment,
whom she chastised for being content with achieving Qthe minimum
in
the new law. The Senate will now review the National Assembly text
April 16-18 (it completed its first review in February). The
government
is using emergency powers to accelerate the normal timetable for
consideration of the legislation. Following the SenateQs review,
the
bill will have a second reading in the National Assembly in May
before
going to reconciliation and entering into law, most probably
before France assumes the EU Presidency on July 1.

4. (SBU) The legislation was opposed by almost all members of the
Socialist and Green parties. From the governing UMP party, 10
representatives voted against the bill and 31 abstained,
including Kosciusko-Morizet. The UMPQs failure to impose party
discipline reflects both general popular opposition to GMOs
in France, and a split in government exacerbated by equivocation
on the issue at the Elysee.

The Law
--------

5. (U) The proposed bill transposes EU Directive 2001/18 on the
release of GMOs into the environment. France is the last
member state to complete this process and must do so in order
to avoid costly fines. The bill is also an outcome of the
Grenelle meeting on the Environment (REF A), wherein the
French government offered environmentalists a QfreezeQ on
cultivation of MON810 (REF B) pending the development of
French biotech legislation, and a requirement for reauthorization
of MON810 at the EU level.

6. (U) The legislation is designed to address the core issue of
consumer concerns about the environmental safety of biotech
cultivation. It creates a biotech approval authority, called the
QHigh
Committee on Biotechnologies,Q comprised of a scientific committee
and
an economic, ethical and social committee. The President of the
High Authority will forward his recommendation on cultivation,
based

PARIS 00000714 002 OF 002


on input from both committees, to the government. It is unclear
how the President of the new High Authority will reconcile likely
differing opinions and how much weight will be given to the non-
scientific recommendation in the governmentQs decision-
making.

7. (U) The bill also requires coexistence measures to protect
biodiversity. It mandates transparency through public
disclosure of farmersQ biotech fields at the plot level and
imposes fines of 75,000-150,000 Euros and up to three years in
prison for biotech crop destruction. Other key decisions,
such as cropping distance, will not be mandated legislatively
but determined by the relevant government ministries.

The Reality
-----------

8. (SBU) French farmers affected by the biotech ban, who should be
the most vocal supporters of the technology in France, have
yet to roll their tractors into Paris in protest (although the
Corn GrowersQ Union is suing the French government for
economic damage). It appears that Agricultural Minister Michel
Barnier is keeping the farmers in check, in part by indicating the
government will take care of the farm sector in the Common
Agricultural
Policy review which begins in 2009.

9. (U) Passage of the biotech bill, however, rankled anti-biotech
and environmental advocates. They had hoped the governmentQs freeze
on biotech corn cultivation in December, 2007 (following the
Grenelle
consultation process) would be a first step toward a ban of all
biotech
crops and perhaps biotech imports, in France. In preparation for
the debate in Parliament anti-biotech activists had organized a
screening
at the National Assembly of the film QThe World According to
Monsanto,Q a disparaging portrait of Monsanto and the U.S.
government's alleged complicity with the private sector on
agricultural
bio-tech (REF C). Senator Jean Bizet, a biotech supporter and
sponsor
of the Senate biotech bill, commented in Le Figaro following
passage of the bill that he had been the object of
intimidation and "intellectual terrorism" by anti-biotech groups
during the debate.

The Cost of Doing (No) Business
--------------------------------
10. (SBU) French government representatives tell us they
understand the importance of increasing domestic agricultural
production through technology. However, they are equally
adamant that ag biotech continues to be hugely unpopular in
France. They argue that internal discussion and debate, rather
than external pressure, is the only way opinions will change.
However, they also acknowledge in candid moments that France
has to be prepared to pay compensation via the WTO as they
recognize the ban on ag biotech approvals is not science-
based.

Comment
-----------
11. (SBU) Despite the latest movement on biotech legislation,
we are not optimistic. MON810, the only biotech variety used
in France, remains banned. The EU approval of MON810 expires
in 2008 and must undergo a new review by the European Food Safety
Agency. French authorities are unwilling to consider lifting the
moratorium until this process has been completed (likely in
2009). Even if the MON810 review is favorable, cultivation
will not take place until 2009 or 2010, under the most
favorable circumstances, and probably under strict parameters.
Retaliation via the WTO against the EU-wide moratorium may not
move the French on ag biotech, but nor will additional lenience.
The French expect retaliation and appear resigned to the likelihood
they will have to pay for the lack of EU compliance with
international
obligations. There is nothing to be gained in France from delaying
retaliation.

STAPLETON

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