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TITLE:  Green Groups applaud the initiative for creation of Europe's
first GMO-free bioregion for growing organic food
SOURCE: Umanotera, Slovenia; Global2000, Austria; FoEE, Belgium, Press Release
DATE:   June 10, 2003

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Green Groups applaud the initiative for creation of Europe's first GMO-
free bioregion for growing organic food

Ljubljana - 10 June 2003 Today, the presidents of organic farmers
associations from Slovenia: Union of Slovenian Organic Farmers's
Associations (USOFA), Austria: Bio-Ernte Austria from Carinthia and
Styria, Italy: APROBIO from Friuli-Venezia Giulia and AVEPROBI from
Veneto signed a declaration to create a bioregion dedicated to the
growing of organic food. The bioregion should comprise the whole of
Slovenia, the Austrian provinces of Carinthia and Styria and the Italian
provinces of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto.

Agriculture Ministers from Slovenia, Carinthia and Friuli-Venezia Giulia
were present at the ceremony and expressed their support to this initiative.

"Organic farming in Austria is already very important agricultural
practice and its potential to grow is big. We want to preserve and extend
this potential also to future EU Member States and to ensure farmers in
the newly established bioregion to be able to farm in an environmentally
and ethically acceptable manner and to provide consumers healthy, locally
and sustainably produced food." said Stefan Merkac from Bio-ERNTE Austira.

Anamarija Slabe from USOFA added "In Slovenia on average, every day we
get new organic farm registered. In 1998 there were 41 organic farms in
the country in the year 2002 total number was 1100 and they represented
1,3 % of total agricultural farmland in the country in 2002. Our goal is
to have 30 % organic agricultural farmland in 10 years time."

Minister of Environment, Mr. Janez Kopač opened the signing ceremony. He
stressed the importance of environmentally friendly agricultural practice
to maintain rich biodiversity of natural and agricultural ecosystems in
Slovenia. He acknowledged that organic farming "is the only way for GM
free agriculture. We cannot ban GMOs but we can avoid using them."

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Slovenia's Agriculture Minister, But
said: "Personally I am very much in favour to establish the GM free
region within the EU. I know that there are some obstacles at the EU
level to achieve this but I believe that such option should be possible
and I hope and believe that we will use this opportunity and turn it into

The provincial Agriculture Minister for Carinthia Mr Wurmitzer added:
"Nowadays we should not be only concerned with quantity but rather with
quality of food we are producing in the region. At the EU level there are
difficulties but also ways to avoid using GMOs. Next week I will propose
our provincial law which will not ban GMOs but their cultivation would
only be possible with special permission which would be very difficult to
obtain." He concluded his speech with two questions related to the
liability and asking whether coexistence is at all possible.

The creation of the bioregion, dedicated to growing organic crops is also
an answer to the debate on introduction of GM crops and the possibilities
to ensure co-existence between GM and non-GM agriculture. This question
is becoming critical as the European Commission prepares to allow the
commercialisation of GM crops in the European Union. In late May 2003,
the Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler stated that it will be left
to Member States to implement measures to ensure co-existence based on a
set of guidelines still to be prepared by the Agriculture Directorate.

"This is the first initiative in Europe to enable the cultivation of
organic crops without the threat of their contamination by genetically
engineered plants. In creating this bioregion, the Agriculture and
ministers recognise that co-existence between genetically modified (GM)
crops and non-GM crops is impossible in the area with highly fragmented
farmland as it is case in here." said Marjana Dermelj co-ordinator of
Coalition of NGOs for GM free Slovenia. In her view, "we should not be
asking ourselves how much would it cost to ensure the coexistence but how
much we would all save if we would not be using GMOs at all in EU and
adopt organic agricultural practices."

"The human genome project showed clearly that although we are full of
data there is a huge lack of understanding what is really happening in a
cell. Without this knowledge risk assessment is just like stumbling in
the dark. GM technology is still too premature to be released for human
consumption. GM-free zones are very important initiatives to meet
expectations of those consumers who do not want to be part of this great
food gamble which scientist play." said Werner Mueller genetic
engineering expert from Global 2000/Friends of the Earth Austria.

"We encourage other regions of Europe to join this initiative or start
their own initiatives to create GMO-free zones to enable the cultivation
of non-GM food for the European market," stated Geert Ritsema from
Friends of the Earth Europe, based in Brussels.

For further information:

Marjana Dermelj: + 386 1 439 71 00, Coalition of NGOs for GM free Slovenia
Werner Mueller: +43/(0) 664 357 35 17, Global 2000/Friends of the Earth
Geert Ritsema: + 32 2 5420182, FoE Europe


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