GENTECH archive 8.96-97


Austria opposition ...

Austria opposition to genetic foods gathers pace 

RTw 03.12.96 10:35 

Copyright 1996 Reuters Ltd. All rights reserved. 

The following news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part,
without the prior written consent of Reuters Ltd. 

By Elizabeth Fullerton 

VIENNA, Dec 3 (Reuter) - Controversy in the European Union over genetically modified
foods spilled into Austria's shops and supermarkets on Tuesday, with pressure groups
seeking a meeting with the government to push for a total import ban. 

EU states and the European Parliament agreed last week after much wrangling to label
foods containing "live" genetically modified cells if they differed from conventional foods
beyond "accepted limits of natural variation." But Austrian supermarkets,
environmentalists and some polticians said the measures were inadequate and fell a long
way short of assuaging consumer fears that genetically altered soybeans from the United
States were unsafe. 

"It's a very weak compromise, it's as elastic as chewing gum," said Wolfgang Pekny of
Greenpeace Austria, which favours a total ban on the foods. "It remains totally unclear
how the labelling will be done, if it will be enforced all along the production chain or if
only the end consumer needs to be informed," he said. 

Greenpeace is taking its case to Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky on Wednesday. 

Leading supermarkets Spar and Julius Meinl said they stood by their decision to ban
products containing genetically altered foods from their shelves. Spar spokesman Philip
Markl expressed concern that the agreement on labelling would not be translated into
law until mid-1997 and raised doubts about the EU plan's effectiveness. "It's basically a
step in the right direction but major areas in genetic manipulation of natural organisms
are not affected at all by it," he argued. "In the meantime an import ban must be brought
in for genetically manipulated food products that are not labelled." Spar and Julius
Meinl said they were responding to consumer concerns about the soybeans, developed by
U.S. chemicals giant Monsanto to resist a widely used weedkiller. Soya is used in a wide
range of foodstuffs, including margarine, chocolate and mayonnaise. 

Austria, a trailblazer in environmental issues, has long been a vocal opponent of
genetically modified foods and in March joined Sweden and Denmark in voting against
authorising the import of the soybeans. About half of all organic farms in the EU are in
Austria and some 10 percent of the nation's farms are devoted to organic methods. Most
of the big food chains have a section marketing their own organic food line. 

The issue of genetically manipulated foods has caused a split in the Austrian government.
The Environment Ministry has put forward a study arguing that genetically altered
soybeans could be hazardous to humans but the Health Ministry has disputed the
findings. The Health Ministry's perceived intransigence has infuriated
environmentalists, culminating in the occupation three weeks ago of Health Minister
Christa Krammer's office by activists from Greenpeace and Global 2000.