BRUSSELS, Belgium, September 2, 2003 (ENS):
The European Commission has decided to reject a request
from Austria to introduce national measures banning
the use of genetically modified organisms in the region
of Upper Austria for a three year period.
In a ruling today the European Union executive branch
said Upper Austrian authorities had provided no new
evidence that genetically modified plants and animals
could endanger human health or the environment there.
The measures envisioned by the Upper Austrian regional
government are presented as a means to protect organic
and traditional agricultural production as well as plant
and animal genetic resources from hybridization with
genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The Upper Austria authorities consider that a general
ban on genetically engineered seeds is justified given
that the issue of coexistence between genetically modified
and traditional methods of agricultural production is
not fully resolved.
Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said, “We
have analyzed the Austrian measures in great detail,
and, legally speaking, this seems a clear-cut case.
The Treaty requirements allowing for a derogation from
EU legislation are not met and, in its role of guardian
of the Treaty, the Commission can only reject the Austrian
"I have, of course, full respect for the concerns
of the Austrian authorities for the protection of the
environment and human health, " said Wallstrom,
who explained that she has no problem recognizing that
co-existence is "an important issue to be addressed."
But, she said, the concerns of the Upper Austrian authorities
are "common concerns, shared by many regions across
Europe, for which is it possible to find a viable response
within the existing legal framework.”
On March 13, the government of Austria notified the
European Commission that it had passed draft regional
provisions "concerning the Upper Austrian Act on
the prohibition of genetic engineering 2002."
Austria said the draft measures are supported by a
study showing "new scientific evidence highlighting
potential risks related to GMOs and specific to Upper
Austria. Upper Austria therefore considers that a general
ban on all GMOs (approved or not) is required in order
to protect the environment and agriculture."
The European Food Safety Authority was consulted for
scientific opinion as to whether the information provided
by the Austrian authorities for the draft act contained
new scientific evidence relating to the protection of
the environment or the working environment as required
by EU law.
The Food Safety Authority issued an opinion July 11,
stating that, "The scientific information presented
in the report provided no new data that would invalidate
the provisions for the environmental risk assessment."
The scientific information presented in the report
provided no new scientific evidence, in terms of risk
to human health and the environment, that would justify
a general prohibition of cultivation of genetically
modified seeds and propagating material, the use of
transgenic animals for breeding purposes and the release
of transgenic animals, the Food Safety Authority declared.
The issue of coexistence of genetically modified crops
with conventional and organic farming was addressed
by the European Commission in a recommendation on July
23. On GM free zones, the recommendation says that priority
should be given to management measures applicable on
the farm level and in close cooperation with neighboring
farms depending on crop and product type.
Measures of a regional dimension could be considered
if they are proportioned and if sufficient levels of
purity cannot be achieved by other means, the Commission
A clause on coexistence will be included in the forthcoming
EU law on genetically modified crops, and it will say
that member states may take appropriate measures to
avoid the unintended presence of genetically modified
organisms in other products.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2003. All Rights