Europes GM delay hitting confidence

8 May 1998

Europes GM delay hitting confidence

By Philip Clarke

Europe Editor

DITHERING by European regulators over the approval of genetically modified crops is undermining consumer confidence and building unnecessary public resistance.

Top US Department of Agriculture official, Craig Thorn, told the Agra-Europe GMO conference in Brussels that the more the administrators delayed, the more consumers would lose faith in the regulatory system and science-based decision making.

The EU approach was in contrast to that in the US, where all parts of the food chain had been involved in open debate. The public were made well aware of the benefits of GMOs, from the reduced use of chemicals to improvements in yield, freshness and nutritional quality.

Mr Thorn drew comparisons with the EUs bungled handling of the BSE crisis, which had reinforced, rather than allayed consumer fears.

But Richard Wadsworth of Iceland Frozen Foods believed consumer concerns were established and genuine. "Following on from the BSE scare there is a general distrust of scientists playing around with food," he said. Research by Gallup for Iceland had shown that of the customers who had heard of GMOs, 77% had reservations about eating them.

Despite this, Brussels has already embarked on speeding up its rules for releasing GMOs into the environment. The need for reform was spelt out by commission expert Karl Dohler.

"Since 1991 more than 1000 experimental releases have been notified to member state authorities and more than 20 product notifications have been submitted. International experience has shown that these figures will increase rapidly in the next few years."

It was, therefore, necessary to speed up the procedures while maintaining high levels of protection for health and the environment as well as increasing transparency.

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