|Biotech industry loses GM-plot (1/8/2006)|
Biotech industry loses GM-plot
Wynne Davies of Agricultural Biotech Europe has missed the point: the Eurobarometer poll that he quotes reiterated quite clearly the lack of public support across the European Union for genetically modified (GM) foods (letter, 20-26 July).
Fact is: the survey shows that public support for GM in many EU countries is now below that reported in 1996. Support in Germany is now only 30% compared with 56% in 1996. Whether the public has reached this opinion through their trust in environmental groups is irrelevant. As the poll states, "Europeans think that GM food should not be encouraged. GM food is widely seen as not being useful, as morally unacceptable and as a risk for society". That's the real story.
As Eurobarometer clearly concludes, Europeans on the whole support technological progress and are not risk-averse about innovations that are seen to promise tangible benefits. "The lesson for agri-food biotechnology is that unless new crops and products are seen to have consumer benefits, the public will continue to be sceptical." This really is the crunch.
After ten years of commercial development, the biotech industry has only managed to bring two products to the market on any scale - herbicide and insecticide 'tolerant' crops. These may have lined the pockets of the likes of Monsanto and their lobby groups, but have brought no benefits to the public or the environment. Since the introduction of GM crops, the reported use of herbicides in the US has increased, conventional and organic farmers have seen their crops contaminated by GM pollen and farmers in developing countries have seen their crops fail.
Perhaps this is the message Wynne Davies is finding difficult to swallow.
> Europe's biotech bites back
> The article 'Could environmentalism be losing its public appeal?' (13-19 July), states that a recent Eurobarometer poll on biotechnology found a 21% drop in trust of environmental groups (ENGOs) on biotech issues since 2002.
> Could it be that biotechnology in all its applications (medical, agricultural and industrial) actually offers sustainable solutions to specific environmental and societal problems? Could it be that some ENGOs have been "economical with the truth" on biotechnology? Could it be that ordinary people, and journalists, have realised this? Maybe European politicians are increasingly accepting the overwhelming scientific consensus that approved biotech crops are safe and offer numerous societal advantages?
Or maybe many of the environmental groups' members are questioning the wisdom of opposing a technology that is starting to offer crop varieties to the developing world that may help alleviate pressing food shortages? Or could it be that ordinary citizens simply have less and less tolerance for the often brutish tactics of some environmental groups?
On this last point, there are hundreds of thousands of people who donate their valuable time and money to protect the environment on important issues like climate change, pollution and other issues. They should be worried that a few people in one or two hard core "direct action groups" are destroying the carefully nurtured trust the wider public has in the overall environmental movement.
Peter Wynne Davies