Agriculture, legislation: no ban on GM crops
for Austria, rules Commission
In a landmark decision, the European Commission
has rejected an Austrian region’s request to ban genetically
modified crops and become a GM-free zone, arguing that such
a moratorium contravenes the EU Treaty.
Following months of investigation, last
week the Commission turned down Upper Austria’s request
for a temporary three-year ban on GM crops. Austria had invoked
the environmental protection clause of the EU Treaty in March
to justify its desire to ban GM seed on the grounds that the
issue of ‘co-existence’ between GM and non-GM crops
has not yet entirely been resolved.
Before taking its decision, the Commission consulted the newly
formed European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and concluded that
the Upper Austrian case “does not constitute new scientific
evidence relating to the protection of the environment”.
“We have analysed the Austrian measures in great detail
and, legally speaking, this seems a clear-cut case,” explained
Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström. “The Treaty
requirements allowing for a derogation from EU legislation [have]
not been met.”
Despite the Commission’s decision, Upper Austria is
determined to push ahead with its attempts to create Europe’s
first “statuary GM-free farming zone”. According
to press reports, the Upper Austrian government will fight
the order at the European Court of Justice.
At the heart of the matter are issues of safety and co-existence
– the ability of GM crops to be grown without contaminating
nearby conventional or organic crops.
Environmentalists and anti-GM campaigners believe that GM
crops should be banned because there is insufficient evidence
of the long-term impact of growing them. They also think that
the possible risk of contaminating other crops justifies such
“This decision by the EU could potentially erode the
rights of people who would like to choose not to grow or eat
GM food,” a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth was
quoted as saying.
On the other hand, supporters of GM technologies believe that
the attempted Upper Austrian ban is tantamount to denying
farmers access to the latest technologies. "No one should
have the right to deny farmers access to the full range of
tools and technologies to fight pests and disease in their
crops," insisted Simon Barber of EuropaBio, the European
Association for Bioindustries.
The Commission, for its part, argues that Europe has been
following the precautionary approach and years of research
have yet to uncover any adverse effects from GM crops. Safety
is not the issue, the Commission insists – it’s
a question of giving the people the right to choose what they
plant and eat. Towards that end, the Commission recently published
a set of proposed guidelines to ensure crop co-existence.
Source: EU and external sources
guidelines on crop co-existence
Friend of the