Memorandum by the Austrian Embassy
1. APPRAISAL OF
Austria wants GMO products not to disrupt broad
social institutions and conventions ("Sozialverträglichkelt")
and stresses the lack of knowledge on environmental effects through
an emphasis on ecological data and ecological balance in Risk
Assessment procedures. The approach to Risk Assessment is characterized
by preventing adverse effects according to the state of the art
in science and technology. Austria interprets the scope of directive
90/220 more broadly and also assesses agronomic effects, such
as influences on the use of pesticides, to determine the acceptability
2. PROPOSAL FOR
The European Commission announced in its communication
of December, 1996 on the review of directive 90/220/EEC(COM(96)630)
to come with a proposal to amend this directive, which concerns
the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms, during
1997. The Commission has made such a proposal in December 1997.
3. In general, Austria appreciates the EC's
efforts to improve and adapt the directive according to scientific
progress. In particular to include principles for risk assessment
into the directive seems highly important, as this substantiates
the precautionary principle and addresses one of the major weaknesses
in the current directive and is expected to harmonise the risk
assessment procedure throughout the Community.
4. For areas where no short or long term risks
can be envisaged administrative procedures can be streamlined
in order to benefit from the chances of modern biotechnology.
Control of products and regional specificity:
5. Consequently, modifications of the directive
should only be done where they do not impose increased risks for
the human health and the environment. As, furthermore, increasing
amount of various products may be put on the market in the near
future Austria welcomes the effort to address adequate ways of
a control and monitoring of these products under the measures
of directive 90/220. Furthermore, the improvement of the directive
will have to take into account the highly different ecological
situations and agricultural practices in the member states. Therefore,
as part of a consent to specific products, the possibility for
specific conditions which address the different biotic regions
in Europe should be established as a provision.
6. A coherent European Union approach for labelling
of products produced from GMOs across the different sectors regulating
the use of GMOs is supported. The new labelling requirements should
provide clear, honest and neutral information about the GMO origin
of products. With respect to segregation and the provision of
labelling certain products with "may contain GMOs"
we still have great problems with the proposed labelling regime,
taking in particular account of the Decision of the Council of
Ministers for Agriculture of 26 May concerning labelling of foodstuffs
produced from genetically modified maize and soy beans.
7. The interplay with other Community legislation
whether already in force or still under development (like Novel
Seed or Novel Feed) will have to be made very clear and transparent.
Following the adoption of the Novel Foods Regulation (258/97)
the interplay between this Regulation and Directive 90/220/EEC
has been the subject of interpretative documents by Commission
services, indicating that some clarification still is required.
8. The proposed change from a type 3a to type
3b procedure for the Regulatory Committee is welcome and is expected
to raise public confidence in the decision procedure.
9. We highly appreciate the endeavours of the
Commission to establish confidence of consumers in modern biotechnology
by the new provisions of the directive to make the EU decision-procedures
more transparent for the public. A similar transparency should
be established in the selection of experts for the scientific
committees and on the way how opinions of the scientific committees
10. Concerning the Novel Food Regulation 258/1997
Austria regrets that clear uniform principles or guidelines to
implement this regulation still are missing, as the legal text
of the regulation raises a lot of interpretative questions.
11. Austria is of the opinion that any novel
food produced from genetically modified organisms in which foreign
generic material (DNA) or proteins (resulting from the genetical
modification) can be detected by analytical methods has to be
labelled accordingly in order to give consumer the free choice
to decide himself in favour of such a product or not. Such labelling
should also be applied for additives, flavouring substances or
extraction solvents which for the time being are exempted from
the Novel Food Regulation.
12. Concerning labelling of foodstuffs produced
from genetically modified soybeans and maize Austria congratulates
the UK-Presidency for having put forward a compromise text which
was adopted by the Council (Agriculture) on 25 May 1998 and which
seems also to be a good basis for labelling further novel food
products being marketed according to Regulation 258/1997.
As mentioned above this labelling should in
any case also comprise labelling of additives, flavouring substances
and extraction solvents.
13. The Austrian Genetechnology Act, which came
into force in 1995, is a clear and comprehensive legal basis for
every industry and research. Nevertheless genetechnology has been
the subject of highly controversial public discussions in Austria
in particular concerning its applications in agriculture and in
14. Public acceptance of these applications
in Austria has slumped down to a very low level.
15. In particular last year the Austrian Parliament
had to deal with three major postulations of the Austrian Public
Initiative against genetechnology (no production of genetically
modified foodstuffs, no deliberate releases of GMOs in agriculture
and no patenting of life).
16. As general prohibitions are not compatible
with European law the Austrian Parliament has strived to regain
some confidence of the Consumer in genetechnology by passing an
important amendment to the Austrian law on genetechnology on 16
This amendment contains the following major
17. New procedural rights for the participation
of neighbours, involved communities and provinces in the administrative
procedure for a permit for deliberate releases of genetically
18. higher transparency concerning information
of the population on all documentations in connection with the
application for such a permit;
19. nomination of additional experts in the
field of ecology and five related sciences to the scientific committees
established to assess the applications and their consequences
for health and environment;
20. higher penalties for illegal deliberate
21. establishment of new rules for liability
(strict liability without a prove of fault) concerning damages
to health and environment caused by experiments with GMOs or by
the deliberate release of GMOs.
22. We think that in particular this new law
on liability for such damages might be an important step in the
endeavours of Austria and the European Union to arrive finally
at a harmonized general regulation of liability for damages on
23. Concerning the effects of a strict regulation
like the Austrian Act on Genetechnology on the different sectors
of industry and competition Austria holds the opinion that strict
but applicable and transparent rules on genetic engineering activities
are also in line with the interests of industry and research in
connection with adequate information and education of the public
by all stakeholders involved.
5 June 1998