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29th Feb 2024

Austria to launch EU-wide GMO debate after Swiss referendum

Austria is planning to hold a pan-European debate about genetically-modified (GM) farming, following strong Swiss support for a five-year ban on gene technology in a referendum on Sunday (27 November).

Vienna will take over the EU's six-month rotating presidency in January and aims to host a conference about GM crops on 4-5 April, the country's agriculture minister Josef Proell has announced.

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Austria is one of the staunchest opponents of GM technology in the EU and is sticking to its own ban on modified plants within its territory.

Along with Italy, Austrian authorities indicated they view the Swiss vote as strong proof of the European public's opposition to GM farming.

Although Switzerland is not a member state of the EU, the result of the referendum will "make people think," Italian agriculture minister Gianni Alemanno commented.

Swiss citizens supported a five-year moratorium on the farming of genetically modified plants and animals, paving the way for introduction of the toughest restrictions yet in Europe.

Over 55 percent of voters backed the moratorium, with a majority supporting the move in all 26 of the country's regions or "cantons."

The decision forces the Swiss government to impose a full moratorium on the cultivation of GM crops and the import of animals whose genes have been modified in the laboratory, despite officials' pro-GM feeling.

But the new law will not forbid import of genetically modified food or ban research into GMOs (genetically-modified organisms).

EU battle

Swiss campaigners say they co-operated with groups from the EU and expect the Swiss result to generate strong popular backing for similar moves across the EU.

But the biotechnology sector fears that a Europe-wide anti-GMO trend could stifle research.

The European Commission declined to comment on the result of the Swiss vote on Monday, but confirmed it would study its implications for future trade relations with the Alpine federation.

The EU executive last year lifted a six-year moratorium on the sale of GM foods.

Some of the bloc's member states, like Spain, the UK and the Netherlands argue that Europe has sufficient safeguards in place and should move ahead on GM farming.

But several other countries insist new tests must be carried out before allowing widespread farming of GM crops.

Spain is currently the only EU country with large areas given over to GM crops.

Austrian presidency fails to stop GMO approvals

Austria's attempt at putting the thorny issue of genetically modified crops high on the EU agenda during its presidency failed as EU environment ministers only "exchanged views" at their last meeting before Finland takes over the rotating leadership.

Analysis

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With four months until the European Parliament elections, there are already some 20 names in the hat for the ensuing reshuffle of EU top jobs.

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