Almost half US shoppers find GM foods unacceptable/GM corn and US aid (17/12/2002)

17 December 2002


Despite years of agribiz propagandising, the largest group of US shoppers when questioned do not find GM foods acceptable:

"Asked generally whether such foods are acceptable, 37 percent agree, while 46 percent disagree" [ie 17% "don't know"].

Acceptance only increases if "GM" is given a positive spin, eg "less costly to grow" ie the reverse of the truth.

1.Nearly half US shoppers find GM foods unacceptable
2.GM corn and US aid
3.GM Foods Debate Hits Latin America
4.Washington Bans Genetically Engineered Salmon


1.Shoppers See Organic Foods as Healthier, But Are Confused About GM Foods

Progressive Grocer [shortened/full text at ]

DECEMBER 16, 2002 -- WASHINGTON - More than 60 percent of American shoppers believe that organic foods are better for their health, but many of them remain confused about genetically modified foods, according to a new study released by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Prevention magazine.

The report, Shopping for Health 2002: Self-Care Perspectives, Volume 2: Organic Foods and Genetically Modified Foods, also finds that although more shoppers purchased organic foods in 2002 than ever before--particularly organic fruits and vegetables--less than 40 percent purchased the organic version of their favorite foods, possibly due to the high costs of these products.

"The survey reveals that an increasing number of shoppers are buying organic fruits and vegetables because they feel they are better for you," said Martha Schumacher, research manager for Prevention...

American shoppers are divided and confused on the issue of genetically modified foods, according to the report. Asked generally whether such foods are acceptable, 37 percent agree, while 46 percent disagree. However, if as in last year's survey the purposes for genetic modification are included (such as raising crops that are resistant to pests or less costly to grow), acceptance among shoppers increases to between 60 and 70 percent.  Despite these acceptance rates, 65 percent still feel that scientists don't know enough yet to control the effects of genetic engineering, and 60 percent would like to know if the foods they eat have genetically modified components. Younger shoppers tend to be more positively inclined toward genetically modified foods, with 45 percent of generation X and Y shoppers finding these products acceptable, compared with 37 percent of baby boomers and 29 percent of matures.

The report is the second in a three-volume series exploring how dietary concerns influence U.S. shopper purchasing habits. Survey data comes from telephone interviews conducted in February 2002 by Princeton Survey Research Associates with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the total sample.


2. GM corn

Tuesday December 17, 2002
Letters, The Guardian,3604,861253,00.html

In his letter (December 13), US ambassador William Farish stated that "more than 95% of American maize is GM". This is just flat wrong. According to the US department of agriculture's national agriculture statistics service, only 30% of US corn in 2002 was genetically modified. The absence of a comprehensive segregation system which separates GM corn from non-GM corn is real problem in the US.

Nevertheless there is a significant and expanding supply of organic corn and identity-preserved non-GM corn that clearly could be accessed for food aid if there was the political will to do so. With an estimated 70% of corn in the US non-GM, it is hard to make the argument that none can be found for countries that want it.

Ben Lilliston
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Minneapolis
[email protected]


3.GM Foods Debate Hits Latin America

Environmental News Service
By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, December 16, 2002 (ENS) - A forum on Latin America and biotechnology did little to paint a clear picture of the future for genetically modified crops in the nations south of the United States. 'But it did clearly illustrate that the real debate over agricultural biotechnology rests between the European Union and the United States.

Today's "Latin America Biotechnology Forum," hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, detailed how Mexico, Brazil and Argentina are all at very different points on the path to acceptance of genetically modified (GM) foods. The agricultural industries in all three countries all seem keen to deploy biotechnology in their fields, but their governments and public citizens are not so sure.

And none of these countries can escape the shadow of the U.S./EU debate, which is threatening to boil over into a major trade dispute.

The United States produces some two-thirds of the world's genetically modified crops and is embroiled in a bitter dispute with the European Union over its four year moratorium on the approval of new GM crops.

The U.S. agricultural industry claims it has lost hundreds of millions, including $200 million in corn sales, because of the moratorium. In late November, the European Union proposed stricter labeling and traceability of all food and animal feed containing more than 0.9 percent genetically modified ingredients. EU officials say they are simply responding to the European public's demand for tight controls.

These new regulations could affect more than $4 billion in U.S. agricultural trade. It is not surprising U.S. officials are warning of possible action through the World Trade Organization (WTO).

"The EU moratorium on approvals is a blatant violation of the WTO treaty," said David Hegwood, counsel to the Secretary of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture. "If we can get the moratorium lifted without taking a case, then it saves us a whole lot of time and trouble. But that's our ultimate objective, to get the moratorium lifted."

Hegwood, the luncheon speaker at today's forum, focused not on Latin America, but on the need to pressure Europe to change its ways. The ripple effect of EU policies, he said, is having a devastating impact on African nations who have refused U.S. food aid for fear of genetically modified crops.

"The fear of Europe is keeping food out of the mouths of hungry people in Africa," Hegwood said, adding that African governments are needlessly concerned that the food aid will end up in crops or beef tagged for export to Europe. These exports then could be rejected by the EU because of its moratorium, he explained.

Still, many countries as well as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan have supported the right of African nations to ban genetically modified foods. South Africa and Japan, among others, have said they can help fill the void if U.S. GM corn is not accepted as food aid.

But the villain is clear in Hegwood's eyes, and the implications are grave, he said.

"European consumers aren't sure about biotechnology so hungry people in Africa don't eat," Hegwood said. "If European attitudes are influential enough to take food away from hungry people in Africa, imagine what impact it is having in the rest of the world."

"If it happens to the United States, it will happen to every country that utilizes biotechnology," Hegwood said.

According to representatives from Latin America at today's forum, these attitudes are indeed having an impact on their countries. The governments of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are all concerned about the export market for genetically modified goods and this economic concern has been added to a list of worries over the environmental and social impacts of agricultural biotechnology. The patents for GM crops are held by only a handful of multinational corporations and this weighs heavy on the minds of many Mexicans, according to Jose Luis Solleiro, member of La Comisià1„n Intersecretarial de Bioseguridad y Organismos Genà1=ticamente Modificados (CIBIOGEM)'s Biosafety Council and technical director of AgroBIO Mexico.

"There is concern over increasing economic control by the multinationals," Solleiro said. "The idea that biotechnology only benefits big multinational corporations has very deep roots in Mexico."

Mexico allows genetically modified foods to be imported as long as they are labeled, but the planting of GM crops has not been allowed. The fear that genetic modifications could end up affecting the native corn is a paramount concern for Mexicans. Corn has it origins in Mexico and is the staple food for much of the population.

Fears over this biosafety aspect of genetically modified crops has prompted the introduction of six separate Congressional resolutions addressing the issue, said Alvaro Rodriguez Tirado, managing director of Estrategia Total, an agricultural consulting firm.

"Mexican society has increased pressure on Congress to do something," Tirado said, adding that a recent survey indicated 40 percent of Mexicans in support of GM crops, 40 percent opposed and 20 percent undecided.

Brazil has had an import and production ban on genetically modified crops since 1998, much to the distaste of the Brazilian representatives at today's forum. Biotechnology could help the country lower its high costs of production, according to Paulo D'Arrigo Vellinho, executive director of the Brazilian Poultry Industry Union and vice president for the South Region of Brazil.

"All we have in Brazil is a political issue," agreed Luis Antonio Barreto de Castro, head of the Genetic Resources and Biotechnology/Brazilian Agricultural Research Corp. from the Ministry of Agriculture and Supply, known as Cenargem/Embrapa.

"Agriculture is the only sector that is profitable in Brazil," Barreto de Castro said, adding that he hoped economic pressures could help prompt the incoming government to reconsider the policy against GM crops.

There was evidence later today, however, that some change may be afoot. Brazil's new agricultural minister told Globo TV today that Brazil might need to import corn next year from genetically modified crop producers to feed its livestock.

Many Brazilian farmers already grow GM crops in Brazil. Barreto de Castro said government officials estimate some four million hectares of GM soybeans are been grown throughout the country. This accounts for some 25 percent of the Brazil's soybean production.

GM soybeans is a crop Argentina has embraced with gusto, as some 90 percent of its soybean crop is genetically modified, according to Marcelo Regunaga, Argentina's former agricultural secretary. Argentina is the world's number one soybean exporter and has found the GM version of the crop a major boon to its agricultural industry.

"We don't subsidize agricultural production so we need to be competitive through means that can lower our costs of production," Regunaga said. "And these products have a positive impact on the environment."

Less pesticides and higher yields, Regunaga said, have many in Argentina convinced that genetically modified crops are the future. But its experience with GM corn shows that all is not rosy with agricultural biotechnology.

GM corn from biotechnology giant Monsanto was introduced in 1998 but has not been approved in Argentina. Argentina exports some 9.5 million tons of corn a year. Although only some of its corn is exported to European markets, the fear that GM corn would be rejected has led the government to avoid the genetically modified variety.

Argentina's dilemma is not one farmers in the United States are facing as they embrace genetically modified crops with increasing enthusiasm. Some 34 percent of U.S. corn is genetically modified, as is some 71 percent of U.S. cotton and 75 percent of U.S. soybeans. "Biotechnology foods do not create an environmental concern, nor are they a threat to consumers or producers," said Tom Sell, majority deputy staff director for the House Committee on Agriculture. "There is wide consumer acceptance in the United States."

"Scientists say these foods are safe - that is the established consensus," added Karil Kokenderfer, director of international trade environmental affairs and coordinator of biotechnology for the Grocery Manufacturers of America. Kokendefer expressed the unanimous view of all the forum's panelists that labeling, especially the regime planned by the European Union, is unnecessary.

"Labeling is not knowledge nor a surrogate for food safety," she said. "It is not an appropriate import control nor is it a reflection of consumer values."

The European approach, added Terry Medley, vice president of global regulatory affairs for DuPont Agriculture and Nutrition, will not enhance public confidence as it is intended.

"It will cause more trouble and distrust," he said.

More than 35 countries, however, have followed Europe's lead and developed some form of labeling requirement for genetically modified foods.


4. Washington Bans Genetically Engineered Salmon

SEATTLE, Washington, December 16, 2002 (ENS) - Washington has adopted the nation's toughest restrictions on genetically engineered salmon. On December 7, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted sweeping new regulations banning genetically engineered salmon from fish farms in all its marine waters. The move came in the wake of repeated, large scale escapes of farmed fish, and heavy media coverage of recent biotech industry blunders including food crop contamination incidents.

"Simply engineering designer fish and dropping them into our public waterways puts already endangered salmon at greater risk of extinction," said Shawn Cantrell, Friends of the Earth's Northwest regional director. "Washington State has taken a bold step to protect the environment by permanently banning genetically engineered fish."

The tough new state regulations placed on fish farms operating in Puget Sound and other coastal areas were adopted in the face of growing scientific evidence that federal agencies have put the environment and public health at risk by failing to prevent the unintended and uncontrolled release of genetically engineered organisms. The new rules will require state agencies to implement new enforcement and oversight measures to address the negative impacts of poorly regulated fish farms.

Genetically engineered, or transgenic, fish are custom designed to possess certain desirable traits otherwise impossible to acquire in nature by breeding. They are often the product of much trial and error, created by scientists who alter their DNA in laboratories by inserting genetic material culled from different animals, insects, plants, bacteria and viruses.

One company, A/F Protein, has developed an Atlantic salmon genetically engineered to grow four to six times the rate of wild type salmon. The consequences of engineering such life, and the technology used to accomplish it, is still experimental and unpredictable.

"The introduction of transgenic fish into fish farms could have led to a major ecological disaster," said Joel Hanson, a citizen activist who helped persuade the Fish and Wildlife Commission to adopt the ban. "I am very pleased Washington State will not allow such a risky technology into our marine waters."

Scientists from Purdue University determined that if just 60 transgenic salmon escaped from fish farms and joined a population of wild salmon, the wild population could theoretically become extinct in 40 generations. A new study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) also recognized serious human health, environmental and ethical concerns associated with the use of genetically engineered animals, including fish, in the food supply.

In addition to the ban on transgenic fish, the new rules adopted by Washington State are intended to address other serious risks that fish farms pose to wild type fish and wildlife and their habitat. In response to public outcry, the rules were strengthened to require improved procedures to prevent escapes from fish farms, and to limit the duration of farm permits to five years.

The rules also require better disclosure of drug and pesticide treatments used on the fish, inspections of every facility at least once a year, and expanded public and agency review of permit applications.

"Several hundred thousand Atlantic salmon have escaped from fish farms in Washington State in recent years, crowding out native Pacific salmon and spreading disease," said Cantrell. "These new rules are an important step in protecting threatened and endangered Puget Sound salmon populations from some of the worst impacts of non-native, farmed fish."

Ongoing problems with escapes as well as massive outbreaks of disease among farmed fish highlight the urgent need for tighter regulation of aquaculture operations.

"It is essential that these new rules are immediately implemented and aggresively enforced," said Cantrell. "Our wild salmon populations are already struggling to survive - the last thing they need is more competition from exotic species escaping from fish farms."


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