France: Genetically Modified Foods (1998)
A REPORT ON THE "CITIZENS CONFERENCE" ON
GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS
(FRANCE, JUNE 21-22, 1998)
Prepared by Daniel Boy, Dominique Donnet-Kamel, and Philippe Roqueplo
And Including the Report Prepared by the French Lay Panel
An initiative that began in March 1997
The "French Citizens Conference" grew out of an initiative taken by Prime Minister Lionel Jospin on November 27, 1997 when his government authorized the planting of Novartis's genetically modified corn. It was announced in a press release from the head of government's office which read: "Public opinion is still undecided and appears insufficiently informed. Although our fellow citizens appear prepared to accept recourse to genetic engineering in drug manufacture, they are reluctant to accept it in their food. Despite great scientific experience in the field of genetic engineering, citizens do not agree that decisions affecting their future are made without allowing all opinions to be aired and debated. A 'consensus conference' will be organized by the Office Parlementaire d'Evaluation des Choix Scientifiques et Technologiques." The press release concludes: "No other vegetable species (rapeseed and beets in particular) will be allowed on the market other than corn until scientific studies have demonstrated that there is no risk to the environment and that this public debate has been brought to a conclusion."
The Office Parlementaire d'Evaluation des Choix Scientifiques et Technologiques (OPECST) which was responsible for implementing this new procedure — was aware of Danish innovations. In France, the Office's task was to "inform the parliament of the consequences of scientific and technological choices in order to inform its decisions." From this perspective, it was to "collect data," implement "study programs" and "conduct assessments." But contrary to the Danish Office, it was not charged with organizing public debate on matters of science and technology. Yet it became the locus of real innovation in this area, under the impetus of Jean Yves Le Déaut. In 1997 this Office member had already been chosen to conduct a study on the topic: "From Understanding Genes to Using Them." Having become the new president of the Office with the 1997 changeover in parliamentary majority at the National Assembly, he transformed this study into a huge three-step program: public or private hearings of all sides of the issue; an Internet information site, and, finally, a "Public Citizens Conference" which is discussed here.
Setting up a "steering committee"
The process was set up in early 1998. Like the Danish example, a "Steering Committee" was created. It was first composed of the two main administrative heads of the Office and three specialists in matters of public debate, known in France for their role in disseminating the Danish experience. Thus reference to the "model" of public consensus conferences was a given from the start. It was then a matter of adapting it to the case of France. Initial discussions had to do with the makeup and precise role of the final steering committee. Within the Steering Committee there was much discussion about its final makeup: should the various interests involved be systematically represented? Worried that the Committee would get bogged down by recruitment and become unmanageable, another solution was finally adopted: Three scientists and a legal expert were added to the Committee. Over previous weeks, they had held private hearings on the topic of GM foods in the context of Jean-Yves Le Déaut's parliamentary assignment and so had a good perspective on the range of interests involved. The Steering Committee was thus composed of seven members — all from academic circles — but whose opinions differed with regard to the conference. It met 14 times before the final conference, presided by Maurice Laurent, Director of the Office, and in the presence of Jacques Bernot, delegated from the Senate.
The Committee explicitly asserted its independence with regard to the parliamentary Office and its president in matters of decision-making about how the conference should be organized. In fact, this independence was never disputed, with one exception to which we will return later and which has to do with its media communication policy. The only constraint imposed on the Steering Committee was the date of the Conference itself (hence the duration of the process), this constraint resulting from the fact that Jean Yves Le Déaut had to turn in his report at the end of June, containing the conclusions of the Citizens Conference. In all, the Steering committee had only five months to organize a particularly cumbersome and difficult process which, in examples abroad, took place over 8 to 10 months, even 15 months in the case of the Swiss "publiforum" on energy.
Recruitment of the "citizens" panel
One of the Steering Committee's first tasks was to recruit a panel: How was it to select and retain throughout the process some fifteen "laypersons"? In the Danish and British experiences, the solution had mainly been by self-selection: ads were placed in the press explaining the purpose and methods of the conference, inviting volunteers to come forth. The Steering Committee would then examine application letters and select those who would sit on the panel. The method would be time-consuming and for some, was open to criticism: not everyone took for granted that the Steering committee would respect cultural and ideological social balances to constitute a sufficiently diversified panel. Moreover, some feared that certain applicants would be more or less backed by one pressure group or another without the Committee realizing it. Another method was thus chosen: a survey organization was entrusted with recruiting citizens, and they used more or less the same procedure as to create a survey sample. Clearly, in any event, the fifteen people chosen were not supposed to make up a representative sample of the French population in the statistical sense of the term. But the survey organization was asked to adhere to a certain number of diversification criteria: equal number of men and women, age brackets reflecting the French population respected, a variety of occupations, cultural backgrounds, political bents and religious affiliations represented, as well as a variety of geographical regions and township sizes. Care was also taken that the panel members held a variety of opinions with regard to science and more especially to biotechnology.
Lastly, to help the group function properly, a professional group leader was recruited.
Makeup of the laypersons panel:
Claire, 29 years old, clinic administrator. (Yvelines)
Michel, 32 years old, pig farmer (Cotes-d’Armor)
Francine, 50 years old, bank clerk (Vaucluse)
Evelyne, 30 years old, housewife (Haute-Garonne)
Michel, 49 years old, dental technician (Côte-d’Or)
Brigitte, 44 years old, housewife (Ille-et-Vilaine)
Claire, 24 years old, bookstore clerk (Pas-de-Calais)
Marc, 32 years old, insurance adjuster (Haute-Vienne)
Jean-Michel, 48 years old, financial management employee (Hauts-de-Seine)
François, 20 years old, political science student (Isère)
Mireille, 58 years old, retired (Nord)
Gilles, 38 years old, salesman (Rhône)
Georges, 50 years old, self-employed framer (Bas-Rhin)
Friedel, 54 years old, farmer (grains) (Bas-Rhin)
Lastly it should be pointed out that in France the term "Public Consensus Conference" was finally abandoned in favor of "Citizens Conference." Three reasons account for this switch.
- First, because of negative connotations: The term "consensus" in French evokes a "halfhearted consensus." The expression has a negative ring to it, evoking a false consensus based on ambiguous compromises.
- Moreover, the expression "consensus conference" implies that reaching a consensus is the goal to attain whereas working toward a consensus mainly has a methodological advantage: that of obliging the participants to compare their viewpoints even to the point where divergences surface. Since the method does not presuppose a final unanimous agreement among laypersons, it seemed better to avoid the word "consensus."
- Lastly, the choice of the word "citizen" in the current political context carries a connotation that corresponds perfectly to the role expected of the conference participants and lends greater credibility to the process.
The Steering committee quickly laid out a general doctrine with regard to matters of communication. Divergent viewpoints would appear among its members and Office officials. The former argued in favor of implementing a full media communication plan, even soliciting sponsorship from one or another press organization. But the Parliamentary Office, respectful of its status as a Parliamentary body, opted for a lower scale and mainly more impartial communication policy: the media as a whole would receive the same information at the same time in the form of press releases.
The organization of training sessions
The Committee decided that the citizens panel meetings devoted to preparatory training would be held behind closed doors, in other words, with the trainer and the group leader but no other member of the Steering Committee. This decision was motivated by the concern that participation of Committee members in training sessions could be interpreted as an attempt to influence the panel in one direction or another. To understand this concern, one must remember that as the date of the Conference drew nearer, criticism amplified. Some of the environmental defense associations that opposed holding the conference grouped under a structure called Agir pour l'environnement ("act for the environment"). This group turned out to be extremely active, organizing a petition that collected several thousand signatures, and which sought a number of times to put pressure on the organization of the Conference. In such a climate, the organizers were inclined to avoid any gesture that might be interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as an attempt to sway the panel. The decision was also made to videotape all panel meetings, announcing that when the process was over, the tapes would be made available.
The Committee decided to concentrate on Genetic Modification in agriculture and food. This is mainly the area over which debate in society is taking place, and it was important to limit the scope of the conference as much as possible so as to explore in depth the issues and avoid distractions which would broaden the field too much. The Steering Committee decided that training would for the most part deal with genetically altered plants and not animals. It was nevertheless taken for granted that responsibility for the limits of the field would ultimately lie with the citizens panel, out of principle.
This specified, the Committee set to work on organizing the first training weekend. In the experiences developed by the Danish Board of Technology, a documentation file was first put together and given to the panel before the first training session. In this case such a file was not compiled. A number of reasons explain this choice: a lack of time, but also the fear expressed by some of discouraging the citizens due to the vastness of the task they were to undertake. It was only at the end of the first training weekend that a press packet was given to the citizens panel, made up of a selection of background articles and pieces written for or against genetically modified substances.
This strategy can be seen as unfortunate, because putting together a documentation file that was not merely a compilation of articles would certainly have enabled the Steering Committee to elaborate a pedagogical doctrine by which to organize the training sessions. Again, the lack of time led the Committee to design these training sessions according to a rather classical academic model.
The first training weekend was set for the 25th and 26th of April. It broached the following topics: changes in agricultural production in recent years, industrial food processing techniques, general nutrition principles, the ABC's of genetics, improving plant species and genetic modification.
After the first training weekend the Committee was apprised of how the session went via the videotapes and the group leader's report. All in all, the experience was positive. The trainers were in general able to make their communication understandable to the laypersons and the latter largely fulfilled their contract by listening attentively to the lectures and even demanding more information than what was initially expected. But all seem to feel that though the first session was indeed a fairly neutral, basic information session, the second phase of training was not likely to be the same, since the real issues of biotechnological development necessarily had to be tackled. The trainers' attitudes, their inclination toward one opinion or the other with regard to biotechnology (were they in favor or opposed to such techniques) became a central question. The Steering Committee most likely went to great lengths not to recruit a trainer who might be incapable of setting aside his own convictions with regard to biotechnology, but were such precautions sufficient? The question became all the more burning since environmental organizations were publicly declaring that the Conference was held "in secret" and complained of not being allowed to provide their own organizational advice, even their own trainers.
Organization of the second session was thus dominated by two preoccupations. The first was to give trainers precise instructions as to what was expected of them: not perfect and probably impossible neutrality with regard to the biotechnology issue, but a teaching method that conformed to three aspects or phases of the learning process: what are the issues, what are the risks, what are the problems. Regarding the citizens, the group leader had to convince them that they were to change their outlook with regard to the subject matter. In the first session they were "pupils" having to assimilate basic knowledge; in the second and especially during the Conference itself they would have to reason as "citizens" and be able to ask questions that would structure the debate. During the second training weekend the group of laypersons, after having undergone the training, would have to fulfill another task which brought them closer to the conference: write up the list of questions that would be asked in public to the experts on the day of the conference. They were also to choose these experts beforehand, with the help of the Steering Committee.
This meant that the second training weekend, planned for May 16th and 17th, had a heavy schedule. Five major issues were broached: the national and international legal framework, environmental issues, health concerns, agricultural issues and food industry issues. Once the training itself, which took place all day Saturday and Sunday morning, was finished, the laypersons would continue to meet Sunday afternoon to draw up the list of questions for the Conference. This is where the trouble began, and the group, most likely exhausted, was unable to prioritize and regroup the forty questions it had drawn up. Nor did it have time to select the experts.
To finish the task a third meeting was organized two weeks later on a Saturday. In the morning part of the citizens panel, reduced to eight members, reached an agreement: five leading questions, reflecting the citizens's principle concerns, were selected and communicated beforehand to the experts. These five leading questions were used as a basis to organize the Conference in five successive sessions; the other questions were distributed over the sessions and would not be previously communicated to the experts.
Selecting the "experts"
The list of experts asked to participate in the Conference was drawn up by the citizens panel from a list previously compiled by the Committee following a procedure that merits discussion. The problem was not, this time, to find the best experts or guarantee their relative objectivity. Experts are probably always necessary, but this time there was a desire that they come from all horizons, and the notion of expert must be taken in the broadest sense: representatives from consumer groups, environmental defense groups and from the biotechnology industry were to be counted among the possible and desirable participants. A wide range of viewpoints at the Conference was to guarantee the integrity of the process. The Steering Committee thus combed through three different lists: those who had made themselves known, even to criticize one aspect or another; a number of personalities recognized for their competence; lastly and above all, the people who had participated in the public and private auditions Jean Yves Le Déaut had organized over the previous months. The Office submitted to all of them an offer to participate in the Conference. Many replies were received. The Office made a list of the applicants, and the Steering Committee specified to the best of its ability the different positions held by each one. The citizens panel used this list to make its selection. The problem was that on its own, the panel did not know the names or the reputations of the people recommended to them. To circumvent this difficulty, the laypersons were asked to declare what types of experts it wanted for each session: thus for the session on the possible environmental risks of GM products, they asked to have a representative from the biotechnology industry, a member of the Green party, a representative from the Ministry of the Environment, etc. The Office, along with several members of the Steering Committee who joined them for this purpose, suggested one or several names on the list, the final choice lying with the citizens.
The Conference took place publicly June 20th and 21st at the National Assembly. Media coverage had begun to intensify the previous week: all the national daily papers featured the event; the regional, economic and trade press gave it wide coverage and took the opportunity to publish special didactic sections on the subject. Nearly all television channels and radio stations discussed the event. Several journalists attended the Conference and interviewed the citizens during the breaks (meeting them for the first time because their names had never been revealed previously). The public at large had to sign up in advance and few individuals were admitted since the auditorium had a limited number of seats. This had little consequence on the debate itself because it was never intended to give the floor to the audience.
The sessions were presided by the president of the Office Parlementaire d'Evaluation des Choix Scientifiques et Technologiques, Jean Yves Le Déaut. The Conference was broken down into five debates, with a final session reserved for open questions. Each debate called upon the participation of four to six experts who were asked to introduce themselves and, in a five to six minute speech, present their position on the leading question asked, then to answer the citizens's questions. The Steering Committee felt that the brief introduction made by each expert would enlighten the citizens panel and allow them to better situate the speakers.
Generally speaking, the discussions were civil but at times heated because the group of laypersons often intervened either to point out that they did not entirely understand the speakers' statements or to request additional information, or to underline contradictions among the various speakers's answers. An average of 25 questions was asked by the panel during each session. The seriousness, informational content, and relevance of many of them were acknowledged by people who attended the debate.
At the close of the Conference Sunday afternoon, the citizens panel withdrew and debated privately to prepare the written conclusions they were to present the following morning at a press conference. A spokesman for each topic read each part of the conclusions aloud. Then the panel answered the journalists's questions.
The conclusions made at the end of the process were explained at length. They allowed for the expression of divergent opinions by prefacing them with "part of the panel wishes that..." or "feels that..." For instance one can read, "part of the panel would moreover like to recommend that, in the event doubt remains regarding any risk to human beings, a moratorium be introduced on the inclusion or consumption of GM products for humans and animals." However, the conclusions on the whole do not call for a moratorium banning for a given period the cultivation and marketing of genetically altered crops, but it suggests that numerous precautionary measures be attached to them: forbidding gene transfers involving antibiotics (to prevent increased resistance to antibiotics which would be harmful to human health), developing public research programs, expanding the makeup of certain regulatory commissions to insure better representation of the actors involved, setting up separate production channels to allow consumers to choose whether or not to consume GM products, seeking better legal protection for the risks run by consumers and farmers, etc.
The outcome of the Conference
The main outcome of the Conference is first of all the publication of the text itself, which contains an inventory of the information thought by the citizens panel to be politically relevant, as well as a list of recommendations. This contribution had a rapid political effect in that Jean-Yves Le Déaut, who presided over the debates, as promised took it into great account in the report he filed to Parliament in October in the name of the OPECST.
However, this was not the goal of the Conference. The point was to rekindle public debate over GM products. We would like to be able to say that this goal was achieved, but we lack precise information that would allow us to affirm it. At least it is clear that the media gave the event wide coverage and since then articles dealing with GM products nearly always mention this Conference.
Given the current state of research, what are the consequences of consuming GM products on human health?
Patrick Berche (INSERM), Georges Bories (INRA), Yves Chuppeau (INRA), Patrick Courvalin (Pasteur Institute), Jean Michel Panoff (Université de Caen), M. Pasteau (Monsanto)
How can we protect ourselves against the risk of uncontrolled proliferation of the characteristics of GM products in the environment?
Daniel Cheron (Limagrain), Joël Chenais (Green party), Jean-Luc Pujol (Ministry of the Environment), Pierre Henri Gouyon (CNRS-Université Paris sud Orsay), Daniel Rahier (Monsanto), Guy Riba (INRA)
Given the economic issues inherent in quality information, what type of information can consumers expect to be given with regard to GM products?
Eric-Marie Boullet (Nestlé France), Chantal Jaquet (Carrefour supermarkets), Jean -François Molle (Danone), Marie-José Nicoli (Federal Consumers Union), Egizio Valceschini (INRA), Nicole Zylbermann (Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes)
How will lawmakers prevent the hypothetical medium- and long-term damages possible caused by GM products?
François Ewald (Fédération française des sociétés d'assurances), Jean-Christophe Galloux (law professor, lawyer), Christine Noiville (legal expert, CNRS) Vincent Perrot (Confédération syndicale du cadre de vie)
Given the complexity of the interests involved, how will the inevitable power struggles be settled between the various economic and political actors?
Arnaud Apoteker (Greenpeace), Philippe Gay (Novartis), Didier Marteau (FNSEA), René Riésel (Confédération paysanne), Marion Guillou (Nutrition and Food secretary, Agricultural Ministry)
AS AN INTRODUCTION ...
The panel thanks the National Assembly and the Senate for having instigated this first Citizens Conference.
In the present document, the panel has strove to synopsize the knowledge acquired throughout the training period. The panel members expresses its sincere thanks to the speakers for the quality, clarity and conciseness of their reports.
They are particularly grateful for the attempt at neutrality and objectivity that they committed themselves to. That way each member was able to forge his own opinion on this particularly complex subject.
During the public Conference itself, the panel greatly appreciated the attendees interest in the debates and the availability of the participants invited.
All of the panel members shared the feeling that they had taken part in a unique experience that tended to improve the democratic process. The panel felt in this regard that the procedure was worth repeating. Through this experience, each one realized how difficult it is to give unequivocal opinions on such an important subject.
The conclusions in no way claim to exhaust the subject of GM products. They are meant to contribute to a broader, ongoing debate. It will certainly contribute to reaching decisions that the panel feels are extremely important for the future of our society.
Given the current state of research, what are the consequences of consuming GM products on human health?
The points we note as essential are the following:
— though the marker gene for resistance to antibiotics may be transferable, this has not been proven but remains theoretically possible.
— there are not considerable risks given the current state of research, in the event of human consumption of GM foods.
The notion of risk regarding GM products is particularly difficult to define for three reasons:
2) we cannot protect against risks we are not aware of.
3) knowing that no gene is insignificant, zero risk does not exist. A general opinion on the notion of risk cannot be given on the basis of a single example. Moreover, since a general opinion on a single example is not enough to extrapolate by, it is fitting to act on a case-by-case basis.
1) we have no idea what specific risks due to GM products might surface in the future.
— non allergenic plants can cause allergies later.
— there is no test to measure the consequences of ingesting several GM foods.
— regarding human resistance to antibiotics, it is important to avoid irrationally introducing marker genes for resistance to antibiotics to guarantee a safety net.
Given the large number of deaths caused by this resistance, we feel it to be the role of a biovigilance committee to implement a means to solve this problem. This is all the more justified since scientists have shown that an intensive use of this marker gene was not necessary for plants. This would also prevent disruption of the ecosystem since vertical transfer of genes within the same species is possible.
Our preliminary conclusions are therefore as follows:
— considering that the theoretical risk of transferring antibiotic resistance to humans is minimal and aware that zero risk does not exist, we recommend banning the use of marker genesfor resistance to antibiotics as selection tools when genetically altered plants are manufactured.
Furthermore, we believe that the presence of marker genes for resistance to antibiotics is an aggravating factor for all types of infectious diseases in that such genes can make antibiotics ineffective.
We feel that neither the composition of the Commission on Biomolecular Engineering (C.B.E.) nor its work methods are satisfactory.
We recommend changes in the following areas:
1) Composition of the C.B.E.
It should be made up of two Colleges:
— the College of Scientists.
— the General College.
— the College of Scientists.
It should be exclusively made up of scientists from all disciplines having to do with GM products, for example: doctors, environmentalists, molecular biologists, etc.
Before taking their place in the college, they should be made to fill out a declaration of interests specifying research or study contracts signed with private companies.
— the General College.
It should be made up of:
— all the members of the Scientific College
2) The C.B.E.'s work methods
The College of Scientists alone should examine applications to market GM products, giving particular attention to study of risks to human health and the environment. It should publish a scientific opinion.
The application should then be passed on to the General College for its opinion.
The general conclusions should include the opinion of the College of Scientists as well as the General College. All positions, including minority ones, should be taken into account.
All the positions expressed with regard to an application should be made public.
The opinion, including the opinions of the College of Scientists, the General College, as well as all the positions expressed during the examination of the application, should be passed on to the cognizant minister.
In addition, a biovigilance committee should be set up, its active participants being consumers, farmers, scientists, and politicians whose integrity and independence with regard to industrial pressure groups are recognized. This committee would decide on a tolerance threshold for the admissible quantity of genetically altered DNA.
Part of the panel would moreover like to recommend that, in the event doubt remains regarding any risk to human beings, a moratorium be introduced on the inclusion or consumption of GM products for humans and animals.
On the other hand, the entire panel agrees that it is in the public interest to pursue research in the field of health.
Given the economic issues inherent in quality information, what type of information can consumers expect to be given with regard to GM products? (labeling, traceability, etc.) ?
After the various speakers took the floor, we have noted:
— that the debate surrounding GM products is late in coming as regards permits given for the growing and marketing of genetically engineered corn and soy beans.
— that there has never been a consumer demand for GM foods.
— that the new labeling legislation is imprecise and appears, in its current state, unenforced because unenforceable.
— that certain consumers are prepared to pay a higher price for GM foods if they put forth additional sales arguments: better taste, better flavor, more nutritional value, easier to use, better adaptation to climatic conditions, etc.
— that certain panel members want foods with greater nutritional and taste value than traditional foods. For these members, recourse to genetic engineering is the best way to make these products widely accessible.
— that there is a problem with identifying the "primers" in imported raw material: only known "markers" can be identified.
— that the GM channel is a threat to farmers's independence with regard to multinationals which market seeds and fertilizers.
— that for years we have been consuming GM products without our knowledge.
— that additives and adjuncts to manufacturing process (not considered to be GM products) are not subjected to labeling.
— that the notion of threshold remains very vague.
— That in the context of overproduction of certain products in Europe, an approach that fosters quality should be encouraged. In this perspective, there is a question as to whether in Europe, there is a need for first generation GM products.
— that there is no possible comparison between French and European interests and American interests, given that 70% of biotechnology patents are held by Americans.
— that there is a danger that introducing GM products on the market will create a two-tier model of consumption.
— that the agricultural use of GM products may contribute, particularly by diminishing costs of necessary fertilizers and other treatments, to strengthening the competitiveness of French and European agricultural produce on the global market.
Consequently, we recommend:
— the need to set up or develop a certain number of regulations:
• the creation of separate channels (with or without GM products) with the establishment of procedures aiming to make products traceable, by any appropriate method.
• the establishment of a clear, reliable and responsible labeling policy.
• respect for the various people involved in the area of GM products, knowing that the market will take care of the rest.
• the need to go beyond existing regulations regarding labeling, traceability and general consumer information.
• mobilization of the European Union so that it preserves its assets with regard to genetic potential. It has a role to maintain; it will certainly require a fight, but the battle is far from lost despite the obvious disadvantage compared to the United States.
Debates within the biovigilance committee organized in two phases:
— 1st phase: debate during which only the experts would intervene,
— 2nd phase: debate in which other participants would take part (farmers, consumers, etc..)
Lastly, the panel acknowledges that GM products can provide solutions to problems such has hunger in poor countries, but it nevertheless questions the capacity of these countries to acquire the necessary techniques.
How can we protect ourselves against the risk of uncontrolled proliferation of the characteristics of GM products in the environment?
— that there are known risks of uncontrolled proliferation (rapeseed), both as regards pollen and seeds. The authorized cultivation of genetically modified corn does not pose a risk to the environment, but a health risk due to the presence of the gene marking resistance to antibiotics.
— that there are potential risks of disturbing the ecosystem (a break in the food chain).
— that there is a risk of uniformization of genetically altered species, in particular as regards the 1st generation of GM products. Part of the panel fears that in this case raising GM products will replace traditional farming.
In this context, it seems important to us to encourage research on the 2nd generation to prevent this risk.
Part of the panel feels that case-by-case studies should be made when new GM products are put on the market.
There is a need for several intermediate steps:
— the risks should be identified.
— competent and independent experts should assess risks.
— reversibility should be insured.
— crops should undergo systematic follow-up, not only in the laboratory. This is the role of the biovigilance committee that should be strengthened.
— only public-funded laboratories should carry out checks.
— responsibility should be systematically sought out and identified in the case of any unforeseen incidents.
— raising GM crops requires less fertilizer and other treatment than traditional crops. Fertilizers used to grow GM crops pollute less than those used in traditional farming.
— we can hope that GM crops will provide plant self-protection against fungi.
— in the probable event of spreading and mutation by the stacking of resistant properties obtained via the genes introduced, there is a risk of making plants indestructible and insensitive to all known weed killers.
Our conclusions are as follows:
We recommend that scientists avoid such gene stacking that leads to multiresistances.
It is absolutely necessary to further research on the ecological risks before seeking to spread the use of GM products and wait for the results of this research before intensive cultivation of them.
We owe it to ourselves to take charge of our children's future to leave the earth healthy and beautiful for them.
However, if GM products result in improved flavor, storage, etc. of the plant species, we can imagine giving a favorable opinion as long as the supply remains diversified.
The panel recommends establishing a principle of reversibility in the event of uncontrolled proliferation or the appearance of harmful effects, which would include:
— technological solutions.
— withdrawing the permit to plant and market the product.
Furthermore, it would be a good idea to focus on research that would tend in certain cases to create sterile genetically altered plants that cannot reproduce.
The panel recommends:
— creating an international consultative committee at the UN. It would have to be consulted before allowing any growing or marketing of a GM product.
— creating a world bank of modified sequences available to all researchers with an obligation to register. In fact, today, even if we cannot find a GM product if it is not known, someday we should be able to.
It seems indispensable to develop research on ecological risks before seeking to disseminate GM products and to wait for the scientists's conclusions before cultivating them intensively.
We need to be sure there are no higher risks than natural risks before intensifying this type of farming.
Part of the panel feels it necessary to keep a total herbicide to be able to eliminate plants that have developed multiresistance to other available weed killers.
Until these conditions are met, part of the panel feels that a moratorium would be a good idea.
How will lawmakers prevent the hypothetical medium- and long-term damages possible caused by GM products?
Existing laws to prevent risks of GM products do not appear satisfactory.
In fact, no law specifically addressing the problem of consumer and farmer protection against possible harm from GM products exists, making them feel powerless.
The law of 1983 to protect consumers and farmers against the harmfulness of a product could have been applied to GM products.
But this law appears invalidated by the law of 1997 that stipulates somewhere that when a product is put on the market, "given the current evidence, the risks cannot be assessed."
As a result, risks run by consumers are not covered by the legislation in effect. The panel feels therefore that consumers and farmers must be protected by specific legislation, in so far as insurance agents are currently incapable of fulfilling this role.
First, the panel would like to see the law of May 26, 1998 be broadened to include a clause covering GM products. It deals with the fact that one can be responsible for and guilty of harm caused by a defective product. In fact, nothing is foreseen regarding possible harm caused by GM products, since they are not yet considered as products likely to be defective.
Furthermore, we feel it is absolutely necessary to include in the law a presumption of responsibility and guilt on the part of whoever introduces GM products into the natural environment or on the market, so that a victim's recourse would be simplified, or at least feasible.
Moreover, the panel would like the time period a victim of harm has to apply for redress to be extended beyond the 10-year period currently allowed in common law, to allow for the benefit of hindsight.
In addition, the panel feels it would be necessary for a legal provision to engage the direct and total financial responsibility of the seed-producer in the event of harm caused to the environment by GM products.
Next, the panel would like to see a legislative provision instituting the traceability of all genetically altered plants and products marketed in France, under any form whatsoever. An initial implementation of this law could be applied to the first harvest of genetically altered corn that will take place in September/October 1998.
Lastly, the panel would like to see a harmonization of EU and international regulations on the traceability of GM products.