Austria proposes GMO ‘opt-out’ clause

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After a debate on environmental risks related to the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Austria is now calling for an opt-out clause to be introduced to related EU legislation to allow individual member states to decide on cultivation.

The issue has been added to the agenda of a meeting of EU environment ministers today (25 June) in Luxembourg.

As authorisation of GMOs still remains problematic, the Austrian delegation has submitted a note to ministers on the “way forward” on the issue.

The delegation argues that “relevant socio-economic aspects could form a basis for individual member states to prohibit or regulate the cultivation of GMOs on the whole territory, or certain defined areas, of individual member states”.

This view is officially supported by Bulgaria, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovenia.

However, as there is currently no methodology available for defining and evaluating socio-economic criteria, Austria proposes that such criteria could be agreed upon “during the process of discussion on socio-economic aspects” that were started under French EU Presidency last year (EURACTIV 09/12/09). 

One example of socio-economic criteria could be forbidding the cultivation of GM crops next to vineyards, the GM contamination of which could affect the quality of wine, a diplomat explained. 

The Austrian note stresses that the development of socio-economic criteria should consider options which could allow member states to decide for themselves on cultivation “without changing the general authorisation procedure for placing GMOs and products on the market”. 

“The legally soundest solution” could be a set of minor amendments to relevant EU legislation, introducing the right of an individual country to “restrict or prohibit indefinitely the cultivation of authorised GMOs on its territory,” reads the note. Such amendments could be based on both the EU’s subsidiarity principle and the principle of unanimity for decisions on land use. 

“Such an ‘opt-out’ clause could be formulated in quite straightforward legal terms and could easily be integrated into the existing legislation,” concludes the note. 

Last March, a declaration by the Dutch delegation proposed to separate the market authorisation of GMOs from their cultivation and give member states total control over decisions on the latter. 

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