France's food watchdog said on Thursday it had concluded that genetically-modified maize from US biotech giant Monsanto is safe, contradicting an earlier report that led to a ban on the maize.
The AFSSA report, which became public after it was revealed in the daily Le Figaro, angered environmentalists and embarrassed President Nicolas Sarkozy's government which had resorted to a special EU measure to outlaw the crops.
The agency said there was no evidence to support the view that MON810, the only strain of GM maize under cultivation in France before the ban, posed a health risk.
Sarkozy's government slapped a ban on GM crops in February last year after a panel of experts said in a separate report that they had "serious doubts" about the Monsanto product.
France invoked a European Union safeguard giving member states authority to ban a GM crop provided it has scientific evidence to back this decision.
The new report was seen as an embarrassment for Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, who is to defend France's decision to opt for the safeguard in meetings in Brussels next week.
The ecology ministry said in a statement that it would not seek to reverse its decision to opt for the EU safeguard. Environmentalists denounced the report as the product of a plot by powerful interests in agribusiness.
"This is a major coup by the industrialists," said activist-farmer Jose Bove, who has waged a decade-long crusade against GM foods. "This is an attempt to reverse a trend in Europe."
Bove said the controversy highlighted the need for an independent authority to put an end once and for all to the debate over GM foods.
Austria, Germany, Hungary and Greece have also restricted GM crops.
In 2007, 22,000 hectares (55,000 acres) were sown with MON810 -- less than one percent of the sown acreage for corn in France.
The earlier expert report said evidence had emerged that MON810 had an effect on insects, a species of earthworm and micro-organisms.
There was also concern that windborne pollen from MON810 could travel much further than previously thought, perhaps as much as hundreds of kilometres.
But the report remained controversial: 12 of the 15 scientists who compiled it issued a statement complaining that their findings had been misrepresented.