LUXEMBOURG • Monsanto and 10 other companies may win a challenge against a French ban on the use of a strain of genetically modified corn if the French government can't show it followed the correct procedures, the European Union's highest court said Thursday.
An EU nation must establish "the existence of a situation which is likely to constitute a clear and serious risk to human health," the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg said in a ruling. Another condition is that the country inform the European Commission and other EU countries of its measures.
The bloc's 27 nations are split over the safety of food produced from genetically modified crops. This is slowing the process of winning EU permission to grow them and has prompted complaints by the U.S. and other trade partners.
The case was triggered when Creve Coeur-based Monsanto in 2007 sought to renew an authorization it had previously received for its MON 810 corn. The commission, the EU's executive agency, in 1998 authorized the use of the maize.
France introduced emergency measures in 2007 that banned the use of the product by Monsanto there. Two more orders followed in 2008 that outlawed the planting of the maize seed. The company, with the support of 10 others, challenged these measures. France's Conseil d'Etat, the country's highest administrative court, last year sought the EU tribunal's guidance on the legality of the measures.
The decision on the validity of the measure will be given by the Conseil d'Etat and until then "the French emergency measure stays valid and the prohibition to cultivate varieties of genetically modified MON 810 maize remains in place on French territory," the French environment ministry said in an emailed statement.
France's Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said in a statement that the court's decision "doesn't question the concerns about environmental risks linked to the GM cultivation."
The case concerns a strain "which hasn't been checked according to new European requirements and for which uncertainties remain as to its potential effect on the environment," the ministry said.
Other countries with safeguard measures on MON 810 are Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg, said Frederic Vincent, a spokesman for the Brussels-based commission.
The EU regulator will "carefully examine" the ruling and its implications for member nations with such measures in place, said Vincent. The commission will then decide whether further action is needed, he said.
Separately, the EU's top court on Tuesday ruled that honey made close to Monsanto's GM crops must get EU regulators' approval before being sold in the region.
That ruling could "very likely" affect the import of honey into the EU, Vincent said Wednesday.