French researchers have expressed 'serious concern' at a recent decision by a court to clear 54 activists who destroyed 70 experimental genetically modified (GM) grapevines in 2010.
In a joint statement, released by 12 leading French research agencies and universities, the researchers express concern over the consequences of the decision to throw out the case from 2010, in which 54 activists destroyed a field of genetically modified vines in eastern France.
Earlier this month, the activists were acquitted by a court of appeal after the judge declared that the state should never have allowed the plantation of such vines in an open area - adding that the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) had not proved that the vines would cause no health or environmental damage.
The defendants were initially given a two-month suspended prison sentence in 2011, and were ordered to pay €57,000 in damages to INRA, which they have since done.
The reaction statement, however, warned that the decision to throw out the case means that the protection of scientific experiments 'is no longer assured' - adding that the court ruling is the first since the law increased the ceiling on sanctions for destroying non-commercial experimental crops.
"As leaders of public research organizations and universities we wish solemnly to attract the attention of our fellow citizens on the consequences of such a situation," said the leaders of 12 research institutes in the joint statement.
"Beyond the societal controversy over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and reactions to it, this ruling is unique in that it was the first to be made on the destruction of a test conducted by the public service research since the law provides severe penalties for the degradation of land to the production of scientific knowledge," it warned - urging for a clarification of the laws and regulations.
"Tests such as the INRA in Colmar are the only way to collect documented and indisputable scientific evidence of the reality of the effects GMOs may have on humans, animals and the environment. Their destruction by individuals not respecting the democratic rules, effectively prevents researchers from exercising their mission to serve the public interest," the joint statement said.