Is Saying “NO” the Distinctive Sign of the French?

August 7th, 2013
in Op Ed, syndication

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Genetically modified organisms, of which Homo sapiens is undoubtedly an example; are not welcome in France, not even if modified by H. sapiens.

France does not allow genetically modified maize (Zea mays), such as Monsanto's MON810, to be sown or grown in the fields of France and when France's version of the Supreme Court at the end of July declared the legislation enforcing this rule void, President Francois Hollande promptly declared -

"The moratorium will continue."

Follow up:

(He conveniently forgot that just a few weeks earlier he had called on his predecessor, Nicholas Sarkozy, to order and demanded that he should respect the ruling of the court, which had ruled that the former President's party must repay to the exchequer €11m because he had overspent the legal election campaign expenditure limit last year).

One can be quite sure that France will not permit the genetically engineered hamburger to find its way to the French table either.

Mon Dieu! What next! The French cuisine, as all the world naturally knows, is a "world intangible heritage" - declared to be so by UNESCO in 2010.

It would, of course, be utterly inappropriate to permit this heritage to be polluted or diluted by genetically engineered hamburgers and any other genetically engineered food products that the rest of the world may choose to eat.

And if organizations such as the European Commission in Brussels or the World Trade Organization in Geneva should insist that France has no right to discriminate such products, the government of the day will invoke the precautionary principle that was inserted in the constitution of the Fifth Republic at the behest of the Gaullist President Jacques Chirac in 2007.

The government may not be able to demonstrate that genetically modified fillet of steak is a serious threat to the health of its people, but it will proudly assert that it is a serious threat indeed to that intangible world heritage.

"Progress" did someone say? Here in France we believe there must be limits to progress. For example, under President Sarkozy, a ban was placed on exploitation of any local shale gas deposits; and Francois Hollande has shown that he is no less patriotic than his predecessor by confirming the ban and insisting that it will not be modified as long as he is President, which is until 2017 unless he is then re-elected.

President Hollande has even gone one better that President Sarkozy with a retroactive application of the precautionary principle to France's nuclear energy programme, which produces about 75 % of the country's electric power and almost 40 % of its total energy supply.

He has already ordered the de-commissioning of one of the country's 59 commercial nuclear reactors and aims to reduce the nuclear share of electricity supply to 50 % by 2025.

The firm stand that contemporary French governments, whether of the right or the left, are taking against an excess of scientific progress is welcomed by the anti-growth zealots among environmentalists, but horrifies French industrialists, who preside over a fast diminishing 12% of the national economy and wonder if at the rate things are going they will have anything to preside over by 2025.

Among the many other attributes - of which the French are particularly proud - is the 18th century Enlightenment, les Lumières, which they firmly believe was a French invention, although, when pressed, will admit that British philosophers such as John Locke, David Hume and Adam Smith, as well as France's American friends Thomas Jefferson, Tom Paine and Benjamin Franklin, may have had a peripheral influence.

But today even some of France's intellectuals are wondering whether the country has turned its back on the Enlightenment and joined the obscurantists. ...As the right-leaning Paris newspaper Le Figaro expressed it in a front page editorial on July 1, titled "Obscurantism":

"To say NO. Is this the distinctive sign of the spirit of the French?....Nuclear energy, shale gas and GMOs - there you have the enemies. When France should be drawing on reasons for hoping that the economy will recover and growth is generated, the government brakes the élan.... (and) without any viable motive. How many jobs and businesses are sacrificed on the altar of ideologies that are a priori reactionary?"

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