GeneWatch PR: WTO GMO decision expected tomorrow: Evidence shows the US's desperate efforts unlikely to succeed in forcing GM food acceptance

Monday 6th February 2006 - for immediate release

Today, GeneWatch UK is publishing a summary of public attitudes research from around the world that has been collected since the WTO GMO dispute began in 2003. It shows public hostility to GM crops remains widespread and indicates that the tactics of the US and biotechnology industry are unlikely to succeed in opening markets for GM [1]. The opinion poll and research findings come from a wide spread of countries, including South Africa, China, Japan, Mali, Canada and Europe. They demonstrate that people remain unconvinced about GM crops and foods and, even in the US, the great majority want the choice through mandatory labelling.

In 2003, the USA, Argentina and Canada made a complaint to the WTO that Europe's handling of GM crops was a barrier to free trade [2]. This followed the 1998 decision by Europe, arising from public concern, to take a more precautionary approach to GM food, revising and tightening its legislation so no new approvals for GM crops were made for a period of six years. This angered the GM crop exporting countries who, in desperation and unable to win the public debate, turned to the secretive and undemocratic processes of the WTO's trade dispute process in an effort to force acceptance both in Europe and the rest of the world.

Tomorrow, it is expected that the parties will hear the WTO's Dispute Panel's interim findings. The publication of the interim decision is a year behind schedule and, despite the importance of the case, the public will only see the decision if it is leaked. Rather than allowing for an informed view to emerge, a scramble to 'spin' the story will start.

Everyone is likely to claim to have won, even though the outcome will inevitably be mixed. The USA in particular will want to spin the decision as a victory to 'persuade' other countries not to place restrictions on GM foods.

However, will the biotech industry inspired tactic of a WTO dispute to drive GM foods around the world prove successful? The evidence from public attitudes research suggests that scepticism about GM has extended globally and the market will continue to reject GM foods when given the choice. There is also a danger that the tactics will back fire and opposition intensify.

"The US and biotech industry hoped that by bringing a WTO dispute they would be able to bully countries into accepting GM food. The public around the world continues to show they are not convinced and any US 'victory' is likely to be hollow,' said Dr Sue Mayer GeneWatch UK's Director. "The USA and the biotech industry has shown itself unable to judge this issue well from the very beginning when it first exported GM soya mixed with non-GM soya in 1996 and started the whole controversy. Falling back on the WTO when faced with a desperate situation, seems similarly misjudged."

GeneWatch UK was one of fourteen international organisations that submitted an amicus curiae (friend of the court) submission to the WTO dispute panel arguing that countries should be able to establish rules for GM crops and foods according to their public wishes.

For comment please contact:

Sue Mayer on 01298 871989 (office) or 07930 308807 (mobile)

Notes to editors:

1. Summary of public attitudes research since September 2003 - GeneWatch UK - February 2006

January 2006
Mali: At a five day meeting, farmers heard arguments for and against the introduction of GM technology. They rejected GM crops as an attack on their way of life. http://news.independent.co.uk/world/africa/article342135.ece
December 2005
South Africa: Almost six out of 10 South Africans either reject or avoid genetically modified foods, according to the results of a poll. http://allafrica.com/stories/200601160543.html
November 2005
Switzerland: In a national referendum, the Swiss vote for a five-year moratorium on the commercial growing of GM crops. There was 55.7% in favour of the moratorium with a majority across all 26 cantons, a situation which was unprecedented. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4475044.stm
April 2005
Greece: research from University of Thessaly shows 'the overall attitude of Greek consumers towards GM food is negative'. http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2621.2004.00916.x
July 2005
Europe: A Europe-wide survey by the European Commission shows a majority of Europeans (54%) agree that "food made from genetically modified organisms is dangerous". http://europa.eu.int/comm/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_224_report_en.pdf
May 2005
Russia: An opinion poll shows that two thirds of Russians are against genetically modified foods and the majority of experts questioned support a ban on GM crops. http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/news/news-ng.asp?n=60290-russians-reject-gm
March 2005
China: In a Greenpeace opinion poll, a majority (57%) of the respondents said they would choose non-GM food over GM food. http://www.greenpeace.org/china/en/press/releases/consumer-rejection-of-ge-foods
November 2004
USA: According to opinion poll and focus groups research by the Pew Initiative, 'Americans' opinions about genetically modified foods remain divided, but majority want a strong regulatory system'. http://pewagbiotech.org/research/2004update/.
September 2004
UK: Opposition to GM continues to grow. An opinion poll by the Consumer's Association shows:
  • Only around a quarter of respondents found food from a GM plant acceptable, compared with almost a third (32 per cent) in 2002.
  • Only around a quarter (26 per cent) favour the growing of GM crops in the UK, compared with around a third (32 per cent) in 2002.
  • Overall 61 per cent of respondents said that they are concerned about the use of GM in food production with the long-term consequences as one of the greatest concerns.
March 2004
Canada/USA: tracking research by the Canadian Government revealed: 'Half (52%) of Americans are comfortable with buying genetically modified foods, compared to 45% of Canadians. The number of Canadians who are comfortable with buying genetically modified foods has decreased seven points since March 2002'and 'Fully 85% of Canadians believe a new labeling system is needed and 77% believe that system should be mandatory. In the U.S., 82% believe it is needed and 70% feel it should be mandatory'.http://biostrategy.gc.ca/english/view.asp?x=588&mid=176
December 2003
Canada: A Government report about public attitudes to biotechnology in general said: '...there remains continued and widespread wariness about GM food, reconfirmed in this wave in focus groups. If anything, people express stronger dissatisfaction than they have in the past about the lack of labeling and labeling standards for GM foods'. http://biostrategy.gc.ca/english/view.asp?x=544&all=true
October 2003
Japan: Research using the 'willingness to pay' approach revealed that 80% of the Seikyou consumers who participated would not choose GM noodles over non-GM noodles, even with a price reduction of up to 50%.http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4046/is_200310/ai_n9305606
September 2003
UK: Two citizen's juries call for moratorium on commercialisation of GM to continue. http://www.which.net/media/pr/sep03/general/gmjury.html

2. For more details about the WTO GMO dispute see the special section of the GeneWatch web site at: http://www.genewatch.org/WTO/WTO_default.htm

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