Since 1992, health and environmental risks have had to be assessed in all industrial countries before genetically modified organisms are to be released and introduced onto the market. The methods for doing this were fairly well established by the mid-1990s.
In addition, according to Austrian gene technology legislation, such products must not cause "social unsustainability". The project looked at ways of implementing this provision. Austrian law gave no relevant indications and the vague formulation was in conflict with basic constitutional laws. As no procedural regulations were provided, the direct implementation of the provision was a thorny legal problem. Although the corresponding EU Directive did not explicitly prevent examinations of aspects other than health and environmental protection considerations, a ban on this basis would have been seen as a barrier to trade and would therefore have been inadmissible.
To give a more specific meaning to the provision, the various concepts of social sustainability behind the terms "acceptance", "acceptability" and "participation" were studied in conjunction with their role in the debate on risk and to discursive conflict-solving strategies, with reference to other technology fields. For this purpose, a symposium on "Socially sustainable technology design" was held at the Austrian Academy of Science. Reliable data on the acceptance of gene technology applications in Austria were provided by a representative survey applying the questionnaire of the Eurobarometer carried out in 1993. In addition to a comparision with Norwegian law, which also contained "trans-scientific criteria" for acceptability, three examples of participation-oriented conflict-solving in agricultural applications of biotechnology in Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands were discussed. Finally, possibilities and constraints on the stimulation of societal debate and on the official determination of "social incompatibility" were described.