PARIS—Europeans this summer have gained intimate experience in an exercise they had viewed in the past as a strictly American sport: genetic engineers versus ecologists. The contest arose after a spate of reports revealed that field tests of modified bacteria and plants were under way in France, West Germany, Belgium and Britain. Ecologists quickly denounced the “arrogance” of the European Economic Community, which financed some of the experiments.

Of particular concern is the testing by France’s National Institute of Agronomical Research (INRA) of genetically altered bacteria in an open field in the heart of Burgundy, near Dijon. Benedikt Hoerlin, German representative at the EEC and spokesman for the Rainbow group, said the tests set a “grave precedent” and warned that they could lead to a "terrifying catastrophe.” Hoerlin also excoriated INRA for bypassing regulations concerning such experiments.

TheDijon experiment was begun quietly in March when INRA’s laboratory of soil microbiology...

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