PARIS (Reuters) - Three fields of genetically modified (GM) maize were destroyed over the weekend in southwest France, the farm ministry said on Tuesday, calling the acts illegal and irresponsible for France's research sector.
Attacks on GM tests have become common practice in France, Europe's largest grain producer, where the use of biotech crops is widely opposed on fears they could harm humans and wildlife by triggering an uncontrolled spread of modified genes.
The attack, on Sunday night, was the first of the season.
French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier, along with Research Minister Valerie Pecresse, condemned the action.
"For the two ministers, this destruction of experiments aimed at testing new GMOs irresponsibly sap (France's) research capacity," the farm ministry said in a statement.
The experiments were carried out by Swiss agrochemicals company Syngenta and Pioneer, a unit of DuPont Co, near the city of Condom and another test, near Mauroux, was owned by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto, it said.
The attacks came only a few days after the promulgation of a new law governing the growth of GM organisms in France, which promises a jail sentence of up to three years and a fine of 150,000 euros when an experimental GM field is destroyed.
Although France banned in February the sole GM crop grown in the European Union, a maize developed by Monsanto, the cultivation of GM seeds for scientific purposes is still legal, provided companies respect rules aimed at limiting dissemination of pollen to conventional fields.
Activists, including France's most famous GM opponent, Jose Bove, say these rules are not sufficient and argue the test fields being grown were sown before the new law.
The new law creates a body, called High Authority on GMOs, due to evaluate seeds before being authorized in the country.
"The ministry should have asked that these tests be halted while waiting for new evaluations (by the High Authority). It has a part of responsibility," Bove, who went to jail several times for ransacking GM fields, told Reuters.
The biotech industry insists its products are safe.
(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide and Laure Bretton; editing by Christopher Johnson)