business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Associated Press reports that there continues to be a great deal of concern about the growth of biotech or genetically modified foods, in part because of consumer concerns about eating such products, but mostly because of the commercial implications if ordinary foods are mixed with the genetically altered variety.

"It would be so much easier," the AP writes, "if genetically altered corn were green or purple, instead of the same yellow as plain, ordinary corn. But there's no simple way to ensure that biotech varieties go only where they're accepted."

The big problem in this matter remains the stance taken by the European Union (EU), which is downright hostile to the sale of GM foods within its borders - a position that prompted the Bush administration to file a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO), charging that the EU was guilty of trade violations.

If biotech crops are mixed with ordinary crops, even accidentally, the danger is that all shipments of those crops will be stopped from entering the EU, which could have enormous financial implications.

"While some safeguards are in place, the process continues to evolve among seed companies, farmers and grain handlers," the AP notes.

Indeed, in a related story, this morning's Toronto Globe and Mail reports that consumer concerns about biotech foods seem to be gaining traction in Canada.

"Growing consumer anxiety over genetically engineered foods threatens to sideswipe Canada's multibillion-dollar agri-food industry," the paper reports, attributing the concern to "an internal federal government paper marked 'secret.' Canada is the world's third-largest producer of biotech crops, after the US and Argentina.

"Consumers are becoming more worried that they can't distinguish between GE [genetically engineered] and non-GE products," says the government report, which was prepared for the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food. "These concerns could precipitate a loss of confidence in the integrity of the Canadian food system, which could be very disruptive to the domestic system as well as Canada's ability to export to demanding markets."
KC's View:
While we remain agnostic on the issue of GMOs - a position that generally merits some good natured scolding from various members of the MNB community - we are utterly convinced that a better job has to be done educating the consuming public about the advantages and potential issues surrounding genetically modified organisms. The US government doesn't want GMOs to be included on food labels because they don't want to scare the public, but ignores the possibility that a) the public deserves to have the information so it can make a choice, and b) if the government does a good job of educating its citizens about GMOs, then consumers actually will be able to make informed choices.

There's nothing wrong with a little healthy skepticism; hell, we make a living being skeptical. And if government and industry believe that skepticism about GMOs is ill-informed (both here and in the EU), then it is their responsibility to deal with it, not ride roughshod over it.