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Page last update:25/12/2008

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.”

Ploughing ahead
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 a ban.
“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
More Information:
Commission press release
Commission guidelines on crop co-existence
Friend of the Earth

Last update: 25 December 2008 | Top