GENTECH archive 8.96-97


Fwd: Austrian Referendum

Here in an article that appeared in yesterday's (April 15) Financial Times
(U.K.) on the Austrian national referendum on gene-foods and life patents.
Forwarded message:
From: (Ronnie Cummins)
Date: 97-04-15 09:11:01 EDT

                         Austria: Petition urges genetic food ban

                         TUESDAY APRIL 15 1997

                         By Eric Frey in Vienna

                         The Austrian government is under fierce pressure
to stiffen its opposition to European Union
                         guidelines on genetically modified food products
after a national petition attracted 1.3m
                         signatures, or 20 per cent of the eligible voters.

                         The petition - which was begun by two
environmental organisations - calls for a total ban on
                         genetically modified agricultural products and
experiments with genetically modified plants
                         outside the laboratory, and a prohibition for
patents on genetically modified animals or plans.

                         It only has to be debated by parliament and need
not be turned into law but the exceptional
                         turnout, one of the highest ever for a petition
drive, is certain to increase the pressure on the
                         government to toughen its regulations.

                         The petition campaign received strong support from
several political parties and the
                         "Kronen-Zeitung", the largest tabloid paper. And
Chancellor Viktor Klima said at a Social
                         Democrat party congress last week that his
government would take the demands of the petition
                         very seriously. This could put Austria in conflict
with the European Commission, which wants
                         to liberalise the production and sale of
genetically modified food products.

                         To accommodate the public mood, Austria has
already pushed for stricter regulations in the EU

                         In February, the government imposed a unilateral
ban on a genetically modified corn by
                         Novartis, the first agricultural product
registered in the EU. Officials in Brussels say the ban
                         must be lifted after three months unless Austria
can present convincing evidence that the
                         Novartis corn is a health hazard.

                         Environmental issues are extremely popular in
Austria, which banned atomic energy in the late
                         1970s and has been in the forefront of
environmental regulation in Europe. No other EU
                         country has such a high market share for organic
food products, and surveys show around 80
                         per cent opposition to any kind of genetically
modified goods.

                         Last month, two retail chains went so far as to
publicly destroy Toblerone chocolate bars when
                         it became known that Swiss producer Jacobs-Suchard
had used an ingredient that included
                         some genetically modified soy substance.

                         The petition could drive a wedge in the uneasy
governing coalition between the Social
                         Democratic and the conservative People's party.
The People's party rejects the demands
                         because industry representatives and scientists
warn that Austria will become less attractive as a
                         business and science location and miss out in one
of the main growth industries. However, the
                         Social Democrats are increasingly tilting towards
the petition camp amid pressure from their

                                             Copyright the Financial Times
Limited 1997
                                 "FT" and "Financial Times" are trademarks
of The Financial Times Limited.