U.S. Still Wants Untested Foods Used on Children, Opposes Safety Labeling
Europe Shows a Growing Distaste for Genetically Modified Foods
Here are portions of a New York Times news report being circulated by The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods.
by Lizette Alvarez
In the United States, most people are unknowingly eating genetically engineered foods every day. The producers of these foods refuse to label them. These biotech foods were never safety tested on humans before being sold to the public. U.S. adults and children are participating in the largest feeding experiment ever conducted on the planet and most people are not even aware of it. But European citizens are well aware of what is going on with these untested experimental foods, and they want no part of it.
TOTNES, England - At the Happy Apple green grocer in this Elizabethan town in England's west country, the Roasted Vegetable Pasty is labeled, clearly and proudly, as G.M.-free. So is the Hommity Pie and a scattering of other products crammed onto shelves.
In fact, all across Britain and most of the rest of Europe, shoppers would be hard-pressed to find any genetically modified, or "G.M.," products on grocery store shelves, and that is precisely how most people want it.
Tinkering with the genetic makeup of crops to make them grow faster and more resilient, something done routinely by agribusiness corporations in the United States with seldom a pang of consumer concern, is seen here as heretical, or at the very least unhealthy. In some countries, there is an unofficial moratorium on the sale of genetically modified foods.
Said Heather Baddeley, who was picking up lettuce and avocados at the Happy Apple, about genetically modified foods, "It's a kind of corruption, not the right thing to do, you know?"
Robert B. Zoellick, the United States trade representative, does not agree. [The Progress Report notes -- Zoellick prefers secrecy and restrictions against food safety information, rather than openness and a free market.] He recently called Europe's stance on genetically modified food "Luddite" and "immoral," mainly because he said Europeans' fears about genetically modified foods have convinced some famine-ridden countries in Africa to reject unwanted genetically altered grains. Some Europeans believed Mr. Zoellick was, in effect, trying to blame Europe for starvation in Africa.
"The U.S. government, including Republican leaders in Congress, accuse Europe of using the issue of genetically modified food as a way of keeping out American exports," said David Byrne, who heads the European Union commission on consumer protection and health. "What Bob Zoellick said over the last few weeks has been unhelpful, clearly. It was unfair. It was wrong."
The European Union finances nongovernmental organizations but it is those groups themselves, and not the European trading bloc, that have moved in some cases to steer Africans clear of genetically altered grains, Mr. Byrne insisted.
Public sentiment in much of Europe, successfully stoked by concerned citizen groups, is now so fiercely opposed to genetically altered food that in Austria, for example, politicians have won elections by vowing to keep "Frankenfood" at bay.
Many supermarket chains across France, Britain, Italy and Austria, among others, yanked all genetically modified products from their shelves three years ago and are in no hurry to restock. Most recently, hundreds of Europe's most respected chefs banded together to form a group called Euro-Toques to battle against the biotechnology lobby.
American corporations like Monsanto stand to make enormous profits if Europe allows the import of more genetically modified foods. A decision by the European Parliament on stricter labeling for genetically modified foods could be made as early as summer, and European officials hope that this may make the food more acceptable by clarifying exactly how it is made. But there is concern in the United States that the truthful labeling will only alarm European consumers more.
In France and Italy, Europe's two food meccas, public revulsion with genetically modified food runs especially deep.
"U.S. culture is different from European culture," said Lorenzo Consoli, a Greenpeace expert on genetic engineering. "Here, there is a very strong feeling that links culture and food. And here, there is much more the idea that science is not church or a religion. It is not enough anymore for European consumers to have somebody with a white coat, a professional, say it's O.K."
A string of food scandals, including the outbreak of mad cow disease in 1996, severely undermined people's faith in the safety of their food and their confidence in scientists and public officials, many of whom claimed consumers faced no health risk at the time.
One widespread fear is that genetically altered crops will pollinate and infest neighboring crops, a consequence many see as irreversible. Pro-environmental citizen groups have turned this concern into a successful campaign against genetically modified food.
Europeans also care more than Americans about how food tastes, as opposed to how long it can sit on a shelf. "For some member states, it's nearly synonymous with sovereignty," said Mr. Byrne, referring to the quality of food.
Certainly, in this speck of a town in the county of Devon, it is almost impossible to find any supporters of genetically modified foods. Three weeks ago, the Devon County Council executive board endorsed a decision to bar its schools and hospitals from using any genetically altered food. One district councilor, Anne Ward, is petitioning the South Ham district here to declare itself a "G.M.-free zone."
Be sure to see Fred Foldvary's editorial on Genetically Manipulated Food
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