(CN) - France erred in its ban on genetically altered corn, the European Union's high court ruled, clarifying the means by which member states can invoke a safeguard clause against cultivation of genetically modified organisms.
Agricultural giant Monsanto had sought review after France banned a type of genetically modified corn used in animal feed.
The EU authorized the corn, which contains genes modified to combat a corn parasite, in 1998.
Under EU rules, authorization for the corn expired in 2007. By the next year, France invoked a "safeguard clause" preventing cultivation of the maize within its borders. Monsanto, meanwhile, has applied for renewal of authorization, which is still pending.
The Luxembourg-based Court of Justice ruled that cultivation of a GMO authorized as an existing product and pending renewal may not be suspended under a 2001 EU directive that applies to all GMOs. France had used this directive for its ban.
Member states may, however, invoke the safeguard clause under a 2003 directive related to GMOs for human or animal consumption. But this may be done only through a specific procedure, the court said.
Member states must officially inform the European Commission as quickly as possible, the court's ruling said.
Most importantly, they must establish a link between the GMO crop and "serious" risk, in a complete scientific evaluation involving the European Food Safety Authority, the court continued.
Such a risk assessment may be based on the precautionary principle, the court concluded.
French authorities have said they will start a new process to invoke the clause, if necessary.
Six other member states - Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Germany and Luxembourg - currently ban the cultivation of genetically altered crops.
Under the new court ruling, it would be up to them to establish a link of risk to human or animal health, or to the environment.