Monday, August 31, 2009

Consumer aversion to GM declining

Consumers are less averse to GM crops and foods than they used to be, according to results from a quarterly tracking survey carried out on behalf of the UK Food Standards Agency. See FSA

Worries about food safety in general continued a general downward trend, from 64 to 61 per cent in this quarter. The top concerns were food poisoning (47 per cent) and the amount of fat, salt, sugar and saturated fat in food (responses in the 36 to 41 per cent range). Food prices and the conditions in which animals were raised were both mentioned by a third of respondents.

GM foods ranked 22nd out of 24 concern categories with only 2-4 per cent expressing spontaneous concern, rising to 21 per cent when prompted. In the previous survey conducted in the spring thse figures were 6 per cent and 26 per cent respectively.

The news comes at a time when livestock feed supplies in the UK are under increasing threat. UK livestock farmers are dependent on soya feed imports from Argentina and Brazil. These two countries supply about 90 per cent of UK imports. But they are increasingly switching to GM production and a joint Defra/FSA report suggests that livestock feed costs could soar by 300 per cent if Europe maintains strict import rules.

Admittedly this entails a worst case scenario in which there were no imports from the two Latin American countries. Should that happen, it is forecast that there would be a 24-29 per cent reduction in UK pig production and a 10 to 68 per cent reduction in poultry production.

The report argues that the risk to food supplies could be avoided if the EU allowed a low-level preesnce of some non-EU approved GM material rather than operating a strict zero tolerance policy as at preesnt.

The situation is complicated by poor harvests in South America last season, active purchasing there by China and the halting of imports from the US after the discovery of traces of unapproved GM maize in a shipment.

Consumers may at some point have to make a choice between lower food prices and an insistence on strict GM-free standards for animal feed. This particular problem is symptomatic of more general debates about the role of technology in ensuring food supplies.

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