Mounting Opposition in Asia & Pacific Region to GE Food

The Age (Australia)
Two thirds say no to GM foods
By Geoff Strong
Monday 24 July 2000

Australians are deeply concerned about the safety of genetically
modified food, with most saying they would not eat it and an
overwhelming majority in favor of compulsory labelling, an AC Nielsen
AgePoll has found.

Ninety-three per cent of respondents to the poll said they wanted GM
food identified with labels, and 65 per cent said they would not want
it on their plates.

Women were significantly more resistant to eating GM food than men,
with just 21 per cent in favor compared with 33 per cent of men.

Both sexes were slightly more receptive to the idea of GM drugs, with
23 per cent of women and 37 per cent of men supporting the idea.

The poll, conducted last weekend, sounds a warning to the food,
agricultural and bio-technology industries, elements of which have
been pushing to introduce GM products on to the Australian market.

The results came as world leaders meeting in Japan failed to find
common ground on the future of international trade in GM food.

The Group of Eight (G8) leaders agreed in principle to set up a panel
to tackle problems linked to GM foods, but appeared unable to narrow
gaps on how to proceed with discussions on health and environmental

Debate at the Okinawa summit exposed deep rifts among the
participants. The United States, the world's biggest GM producer and
home to a $A6.8billion-a-year GM food industry, is concerned that
coordinating further research could be just another way of delaying
acceptance of the technology.

The AgePoll findings are consistent with surveys done by the body
responsible for labelling, the Australian and New Zealand Food
Authority. The authority's governing body, the council of federal,
state and New Zealand Health Ministers, will meet next week to discuss
how to put labelling into practice.

A key question for the ministers is determining what level of
genetically modified material a food product should contain before it
comes under labelling requirements.

Prime Minister John Howard last month circulated a letter to health
ministers recommending that the threshold be set at 1 per cent, but GM
opponents claim a food should only be considered non-GM if it contains
zero material.

A leading opponent, Bob Phelps, director of the GeneEthic Network,
argues that GM material can be measured down to 0.1 per cent.

But Michael Dack of the Australian and New Zealand Food Authority says
accurate meaurements are impossible for a GM component of less than 2
per cent. "It is a cultural issue not a safety issue," said Mr Dack.

"There is no evidence that GM foods are any different or less safe
than non-GM foods."

The debate comes as the world's largest economies have taken very
different approaches to GM food and labelling. Authorities in the
United States have opted for no labelling. But in Japan and the
European Union, where there is vigorous opposition to GM food, plans
for mandatory labelling are well advanced.

Mr Phelps said that under Mr Howard's 1 per cent threshold, only one
of the genetically modified foods now on sale in Australia would need
to be labelled. "And under their proposals, things like oils and
sugars would not be labelled even if they had a much higher GM
component because they argue DNA is broken down by the processing and
they do not need to be labelled."

The Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee will investigate
allegations, first raised in The Age in March, about genetically
modified canola plants from a secret trial being dumped at a Mount
Gambier tip in an apparent breach of guidelines.

The committee, as part of an inquiry into the proposed Gene Technology
Bill 2000, the committee will also examine the role of the Independent
Office of the Gene Technology Regulator in how it investigated the The
Age's revelations. --- 3. The Independent Clinton attacks Europe for
moving too slowly over 'safe' GM food By Richard Lloyd Parry 24 July

President Bill Clinton criticised European leaders for moving too
slowly on the promotion of genetically modified foods yesterday,
after three days of talks among the Group of Eight leaders failed to
overcome intense trans-Atlantic differences over the future of

"You know that I believe that," he said, when asked if he thought
Europe is being too cautious on GM foods. "If we could get more of
this golden rice, which is a genetically modified strain of rice,
especially rich in vitamin A, out to the developing world, it could
save 40,000 lives a day, people that are malnourished and dying."

"If it's safe ? that's the big issue," he said, at a press conference
with Tony Blair. "All the evidence that I've seen convinces me, based
on what all the scientists know now, that it is."

Despite a determination to present a harmonious front at the end of
the three-day summit of the G8 in the Japanese island of Okinawa, the
leaders made little attempt to disguise their dispute over GM foods.

"There is the thesis supported by Jean Chretien [the Canadian Prime
Minister] and Bill Clinton that GM foods aren't dangerous," said
Jacques Chirac, the French President. "Then there is the other school,
that of Europe and Japan, that considers the potential consequences
for health and environment require precaution and scientific

Both France and the United States have powerful farming lobbies.
Hundreds of US farmers who are growing GM crops, produced by companies
such as Monsanto, have found thei markets disappearing through a
widespread refusal to buy them.

New US government figures show that the planting of GM corn and soya
is decreasing, after years of rapid expansion, and even US shoppers
are turning against the foods.

The European policy of "precaution," meanwhile, meansGM foods are
assumed to be unsafe until proven otherwise. "You have all of Europe
stressing the principle of precaution," the European Commission
President Romano Prodi said after the summit.

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said the leaders were considering
setting up an independent panel to promote further discussion of the
issue. The leaders, however, did not immediately endorse such an

The final communiquÈ issued at the end of the summit made no direct
mention of biotechnology as an area of concern, but referred to the
"potential risks associated with food" in general.

Highlighting the different points of view expressed, it also called
for helping the "capacity building [of developing countries] to
harness the potentials of biotechnology," in a nod to the US position.

The statement said the G8 would explore how to "integrate the best
scientific knowledge available into the global process of consensus
building on biotechnology and other aspects of food and crop safety."

"This whole science of biotechnology is perhaps going to be for the
first half of the 21st century what information technology was to the
last half of the 20th century," said Mr Blair. "There are intensely
held views on both sides, but the most important thing is that we get
access to the best scientific evidence."

There was more consensus among the leaders concerning the nearly
complete mapping of the human genome.

The communiquÈ praised the breakthrough as a "dramatic and welcome
step" and urged fair intellectual property protection. On the genome,
"there was no problem, no difficulty and no disagreement," Mr Chirac

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