Hannes Richter

Austrian Minister of Agriculture and Environment Visits the U.S.

Hannes Richter

Secretary Veneman and Minister Pröll

Austrian Federal Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Water Management Josef Pröll visited Washington for bilateral talks. On April 30, the Minister met with U.S. Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Ann Veneman, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation Bob Stallman, as well as representatives from non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace.

One of their topics of discussion was genetically engineered crops and its potentially beneficial effects on food production, a view strongly supported by the United States and reiterated by Mr. Stallman. In fact, the U.S. would like to overcome the so-called de facto moratorium, since it considers genetically engineered crops safe. Minister Pröll restated Austria's position on the issue, explaining that genetic engineering appears to be of limited advantage to Austria because of its small-scale farming. Moreover, since a major portion of its farming surface has been planted with organic products, there is concern that cross-pollination of genetically engineered crops with organic crops could present a problem of coexistence.

Further discussions concerned the 1997 import ban on ruminants from the European Communities which had been imposed after the discovery of mad cow disease (BSE). A single case of BSE was discovered in Austria in 2001. To date, under strict control measures, Austria has been able to match U.S. test rates.

Discussions revolved around a possible classification of Austria as a minimal risk country, which would reopen the U.S. market for Austrian exports, in particular, for premium quality of cattle for the purpose of breeding. Both sides agreed that continued ban on animal feed and removal of risk material would ultimately resolve the BSE problem.