By Sybille de La Hamaide
PARIS (Reuters) - France set a temporary new ban on the cultivation of Monsanto's MON810 genetically modified maize on Friday, after a previous moratorium was annulled by the country's top court in November.
France said that it was acting conservatively in advance of spring sowings.
"Because of the approach of sowing, the minister of Agriculture decided today to take a conservative measure to temporarily ban MON810 maize on national land in order to protect the environment," Prime Minister Francois Fillon said in a statement.
France, by far the EU's largest grain grower, invoked a so-called safeguard clause, reviving a ban put in place in 2008 and overturned by the country's highest court in November on the basis that it was not sufficiently justified.
The government had immediately said it would "examine all ways" to maintain it despite the decision.
The decree banning MON810 was due to be published on Sunday, likely in time to prevent sowings as maize plantings are only starting in France. Farmers also expressed fears of having their fields ransacked by anti-GMO activists like in 2007, the year before the previous ban.
France, which holds a presidential election next month and where public opinion is fiercely opposed to genetically modified organisms (GMO), had asked the European Commission last month to suspend the authorization to sow the maize (corn), the only GMO crop allowed for cultivation in the European Union.
The French government's request to the EU Commission was based on "significant risks for the environment" shown in recent scientific studies, it said.
With maize sowing getting underway in France, anti-GMOs had called on the government to act quickly, concerned that farmers may sow the plants sometimes dubbed as "Frankenstein foods".
An IPSOS poll for a lobby of biotech firms released on Thursday said a majority of French people (52 percent) think genetically modified organisms are risky for human health and showed that 66 percent thought they had limited or non-existent knowledge about the subject.
Global seeds giant Monsanto, which says its GMO maize is perfectly safe, said in January it would not sell MON810 in France in 2012 and beyond.
(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, Editing by Alexandria Sage and Daniel Flynn)