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
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
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
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 recommended.
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 Reserved.