Polls this week showed 55 per cent of Americans (and 62 per cent of women) would avoid foods carrying a GM label, while 68 per cent of Canadians have little or no confidence that GM food is safe.
But in Britain, the Food Standards Agency is telling the Government, "worries about GM foods have decreased" and concerns are most focused on the environment and the safety of GM food is "less of an issue".
Compare and contrast:
"The Food Standards Agency said in a report to Mrs Beckett yesterday that public worries about GM foods have decreased over the past three years". (item 2)
"We are guided by our customers. We have been tracking customer opinion regularly and *nothing has changed*." - Tesco, the UK's largest supermarket chain (item 2 - emphasis added)
'I am not as convinced as Michael about the health threats. The greater risk is environmental cross-contamination, and that's the focus of the field scale evaluations.' - UK Environment Minister Elliot Morley
"The FSA said British consumers were most worried about the potential impact of the crops on the environment and that the safety of GM food was 'less of an issue.'" (item 1)
* UK Food Watchdog Says Public Wary of Biotechnology - Reuters
* Beckett backs GM food decision - Financial Times
UK Food Watchdog Says Public Wary of Biotechnology
Wed July 16, 2003
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's consumers are wary about genetically modified (GM) food and need clear information about the technology, the country's government-backed food watchdog, the Food Standards Agency, said Thursday.
"Consumers do not have entrenched views on GM food, but there is a suspicion of GM, and there is lack of readily understood information," the FSA concluded in a report presented to agriculture minister Margaret Beckett.
The conclusions of the study, "Consumer views on GM food," which the FSA said was the result of three years of intensive research, will be taken into account as the government considers whether the gene-spliced crops should be grown commercially.
The government expects to decide later this year.
The European Parliament voted earlier this month to introduce strict labeling on foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMO), to pave the way for the European Union to drop its five-year-old de facto ban on new biotech crops.
The ban has aroused strong protest from major producers, notably the United States, which is a big exporter of GM products and has taken the EU to the World Trade Organization (WTO) over the issue.
The FSA said British consumers were most worried about the potential impact of the crops on the environment and that the safety of GM food was "less of an issue."
Consumers also want to be able to make a choice between GM and non-GM food and clear and effective labeling was crucial to achieving that goal, the FSA said.
Consumers were mixed in their views of the potential benefits of GM food, it added.
"Although some people considered that GM could bring benefits in terms of nutrition, quality and price, others questioned whether GM food was necessary given the choice of food currently available," the report said.
The FSA also said its research showed that concerns about GM food had diminished over the last three years, but "it appears that for many people, any consumer benefits from GM food remain unclear and unproven."
FSA chief John Krebs recently faced heavy criticism from nine environmental and consumer lobby groups, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Soil Association, over his handling of the GM debate.
Beckett backs GM food decision
By John Mason
Financial Times, July 17 2003
Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, is "comfortable" with the prospect that genetically modified foods may not be on the shelves of large retailers for some years.
The Food Standards Agency said in a report to Mrs Beckett yesterday that public worries about GM foods have decreased over the past three years, but people are still concerned about possible environmental damage and lack trust in both scientists and the government.
The FSA report came as leading supermarket executives met with Mrs Beckett to discuss whether food retailers would change their position if the European Union lifted its moratorium on the growing and importing of GM ingredients. Mrs Beckett backed the conclusions of the Downing Street strategy unit that said the current range of GM crops had little potential in the UK.
The chief executives of Tesco, J.Sainsbury, Safeway, Asda and senior figures from the British Retail Consortium told Mrs Beckett there was no prospect of retailers stocking GM foods unless there was clear evidence that consumer sentiments had changed. Sainsbury said: "We listen to our customers and are driven by what they want." Tesco said: "We are guided by our customers. We have been tracking customer opinion regularly and nothing has changed."
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