Austria Urges National Ban On Gene-Modified Maize

LUXEMBOURG, April 10 (Reuter) - Austria urged its European Union partners on Thursday to support its national ban on gene- modified maize when it comes up for vetting before key EU committees.

In a statement to the EU's consumer affairs ministers, Vienna said its own reservations about the maize and those of Italy and Luxembourg should not be brushed aside by the European Commission, which cleared EU sales late last year.

"It would be very regrettable if the serious and well-founded reservations of three EU members should be swept under the carpet, without any consideration for the sensitivity of the question and of the scepticism of a large slice of public opinion," the statement said.

A European Commission spokesman said on Wednesday Austria's evidence in support of its ban appeared to throw no new light on the issue, meaning Vienna's ban was unlikely to stand up.

Consumer affairs commissioner Emma Bonino told a news conference after the ministerial meeting on Thursday the Commission would have to follow the EU scientific committees' advice "whether people like it or not."

Under EU rules member states can impose unilateral bans on public health grounds but must notify, and get clearance from the Commission, which decides on bans after taking advice from specialised committees.

Earlier this week the European Parliament called for an EU sales ban on the maize pending further safety tests. But the Commission said on Wednesday it had no legal powers to do so.

The maize was developed by Ciba Geigy, now owned by Novartis , the newly created Swiss pharmaceuticals giant.

Bonino recently took over responsibility for food health at the Commission after a the executive was reorganised following the public health scare over mad cow disease.

Italy has banned cultivation of the maize on its soil, as has France, while Luxembourg has banned its general use.

15:02 04-10-97

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