Greenpeace Dumps Grain at U.S. Embassy in Vienna

By Elizabeth Fullerton

VIENNA, April 8 (Reuter) - Austrian environmentalists on Tuesday staged a protest outside the U.S. Embassy against the import of gene foods and sought inspiration from an unlikely source -- Elvis Presley.

As the Elvis hit ``Return to Sender'' blared out from a tape recorder, 30 activists from Greenpeace Austria ceremoniously dumped a tonne of genetically-altered soya outside the imposing entrance to the U.S. embassy in central Vienna.

``The U.S. government must realise that Austrian consumers and most retailers are opposed to its lobbying for genetically altered foods,'' Greenpeace spokesman Matthias Schickhofer told Reuters.

The demonstrators unfurled a banner bearing the U.S. flag and the caption ``Return to Sender,'' and delivered a protest note to U.S. Ambassador Swanee Hunt against the practice of mixing ordinary soya with the manipulated product.

``No one in Austria ordered manipulated soya. No one needs it and no one wants it,'' the note said.

Many pressure groups around Europe have been opposed to the arrival of soybeans, developed by U.S. chemicals giant Monsanto Co (MTC.N) to resist the widely used Roundup weedkiller, on the European market.

They fear there could be health risks from the beans and say not enough research has been done on the effects of genetically engineered products.

Soy is used in a variety of foodstuffs, including margarine, chocolate and mayonnaise.

The protest comes as part of a week-long nationwide drive by Austrian environmentalists to gather signatures for a petition to ban genetically modified foods from the country.

They must collect 100,000 signatures in order to start the ball rolling for a debate in parliament on the issue, which could eventually result in a change in the law or a referendum.

``The gene petition is a clear refusal of the intrusion of the U.S. gene technology lobby in Austria,'' Schickhofer said.

Austria, which sees itself as a trailblazer in environmental issues, in January banned the import of genetically modified maize from the United States citing health concerns in defiance of European Union (EU) approval for the crop.

Around half of all the organic farms in the EU are in Austria and some 10 percent of the nation's farms are devoted to organic methods. Most of the big food chains have a section marketing their own organic food line.

REUTERS

07:30 04-08-97


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