Unveiling the country's new environmental policy, Sarkozy said no GMO crops would be planted in France until the government had received the results of an evaluation by a new authority on GMOs set to be launched later this year.
"I don't want to be in contradiction with EU laws, but I have to make a choice. In line of the precautionary principle, I wish that the commercial cultivation of genetically modified pesticide GMOs be suspended," he said.
The only GMO crop grown in the European Union is a maize using the so-called MON 810 technology developed by US biotech giant Monsanto, which is designed to resist the European corn borer, a pest that attacks maize stalks and thrives in warmer climates in southern EU countries.
Monsanto says the protein contained in its maize has selective toxicity but is harmless to humans, fish and wildlife.
Just 22,000 hectares – 1.5 percent of France's cultivated maize land – have been sown with GMO maize this year but some farmers have urged greater use of GMO crops to boost yields.
Research to continue
The future of GMOs has long been the subject of heated debate in France and its reluctance, along with other European countries, to use GMO crops compares starkly with the United States, which has a far higher take-up of GMO technology.
A ban on GMO maize growing for the coming months would not affect maize production in France because sowings do not take place until spring.
Sarkozy stressed that his move did not mean a halt to GMO research.
"This suspension of commercial cultivation of pesticide GMOs does not mean – I want to be clear on this – that we must condemn all GMOs, notably future GMOs," he said.
Several European Union countries have dug in their heels on whether their farmers may grow MON 810 maize, one of Europe's oldest GMO crops.