Green Groups applaud the initiative for creation of Europe's first GMO-free bioregion for growing organic food

Ljubljana - 10 June 2003  Today, the presidents of organic farmers associations from Slovenia: Union of Slovenian Organic Farmers`s Associations (USOFA), Austria: Bio-Ernte Austria from Carinthia and Styria, Italy: APROBIO from Friuli-Venezia Giulia and AVEPROBI from Veneto signed a declaration to create a bioregion dedicated to the growing of organic food. The bioregion should comprise the whole of Slovenia, the Austrian provinces of Carinthia and Styria and the Italian provinces of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto.

Agriculture Ministers from Slovenia, Carinthia and Friuli-Venezia Giulia were present at the ceremony and expressed their support to this initiative.

"Organic farming in Austria is already very important agricultural practice and its potential to grow is big. We want to preserve and extend this potential also to future EU Member States and to ensure farmers in the newly established bioregion to be able to farm in an environmentally and ethically acceptable manner and to provide consumers healthy, locally and sustainably produced food." said Stefan Merkac from Bio-ERNTE Austira.

Anamarija Slabe from USOFA added "In Slovenia on average, every day we get new organic farm registered. In 1998 there were 41 organic farms in the country in the year 2002 total number was 1100 and they represented 1,3 % of total agricultural farmland in the country in 2002. Our goal is to have 30 % organic agricultural farmland in 10 years time."

Minister of Environment, Mr. Janez Kopaè opened the signing ceremony. He stressed the importance of environmentally friendly agricultural practice to maintain rich biodiversity of natural and agricultural ecosystems in Slovenia. He acknowledged that organic farming "is the only way for GM free agriculture. We cannot ban GMOs but we can avoid using them."

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Slovenia's Agriculture Minister, But said: "Personally I am very much in favour to establish the GM free region within the EU. I know that there are some obstacles at the EU level to achieve this but I believe that such option should be possible and I hope and believe that we will use this opportunity and turn it into reality."

The provincial Agriculture Minister for Carinthia Mr Wurmitzer added: "Nowadays we should not be only concerned with quantity but rather with quality of food we are producing in the region. At the EU level there are difficulties but also ways to avoid using GMOs. Next week I will propose our provincial law which will not ban GMOs but their cultivation would only be possible with special permission which would be very difficult to obtain." He concluded his speech with two questions related to the liability and asking whether coexistence is at all possible.

The creation of the bioregion, dedicated to growing organic crops is also an answer to the debate on introduction of GM crops and the possibilities to ensure co-existence between GM and non-GM agriculture. This question is becoming critical as the European Commission prepares to allow the commercialisation of GM crops in the European Union. In late May 2003, the Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler stated that it will be left to Member States to implement measures to ensure co-existence based on a set of guidelines still to be prepared by the Agriculture Directorate.

" This is the first initiative in Europe to enable the cultivation of organic crops without the threat of their contamination by genetically engineered plants. In creating this bioregion, the Agriculture and ministers recognise that co-existence between genetically modified (GM) crops and non-GM crops is impossible in the area with highly fragmented farmland as it is case in here." said Marjana Dermelj co-ordinator of Coalition of NGOs for GM free Slovenia. In her view, "we should not be asking ourselves how much would it cost to ensure the coexistence but how much we would all save if we would not be using GMOs at all in EU and adopt organic agricultural practices."  

"The human genome project showed clearly that although we are full of data there is a huge lack of understanding what is really happening in a cell. Without this knowledge risk assessment is just like stumbling in the dark. GM technology is still too premature to be released for human consumption. GM-free zones are very important initiatives to meet expectations of those consumers who do not want to be part of this great food gamble which scientist play." said Werner Mueller genetic engineering expert from Global 2000/Friends of the Earth Austria.

"We encourage other regions of Europe to join this initiative or start their own initiatives to create GMO-free zones to enable the cultivation of non-GM food for the European market," stated Geert Ritsema from Friends of the Earth Europe, based in Brussels.

For further information:
Marjana Dermelj: + 386 1 439 71 00, Coalition of NGOs for GM free Slovenia
Werner Mueller: +43/(0) 664 357 35 17, Global 2000/Friends of the Earth Austria.
Geert Ritsema: + 32  2 5420182, FoE Europe