London, June 24 (Reuters): A transatlantic storm is brewing over genetically modified crops with the US extolling the benefits of biotechnology and Europeans insisting on proof that “Frankenstein foods” really are safe to eat.
In the latest salvo in what is turning into a bruising battle, President George W. Bush accused European nations of contributing to famine in Africa because of their reluctance to accept GM foods.
But critics in Europe said his comments are more about promoting the biotech business than ending world hunger.
“He can only have been informed by the multinationals, the Monsantos of this world, to make a statement which displays as much ignorance as that,” Patrick Holden, of the environmental group the Soil Association, said.
Monsanto Co , the St. Louis, Missouri-based agribusiness giant, is moving to commercialise biotech wheat.
“It is nonsense,” Holden added. “Even serious experts on GM will concede that there is no evidence that GM can make any greater contribution to feeding the world than existing agricultural science.”
Friends of the Earth, echoed his comments and accused the US leader of exploiting famine to sell GM products.
“GM crops will not feed the world. Indeed making poor farmers dependent on biotech companies for their seed may only make matters worse,” said spokeswoman Clare Oxborrow.
The debate about GM foods highlights huge differences between Americans, who seem to have accepted the technology in which plants are genetically altered to repel insects and withstand drought and Europeans, who are more sceptical and less trusting of regulatory authorities after food scares such as the outbreak of mad cow disease.
Last week the Bush administration announced it would file a formal complaint with the World Trade Organisation to overturn a European ban on new biotech foods.
“If Bush thinks that getting his way with Europe over Iraq was a precedent for this GM decision, he should think again because the degree of informed public opposition to commercialisation is growing by the day,” Holden said.
Proponents of GM technology say it will increase farm yields, lower costs, reduce the level of chemicals used on plants and help to feed a hungry world.
Critics warn that too little is known about health risks such as allergic reactions and resistance to antibiotics and that not enough testing has been done.
They are also concerned about the threat to the environment and that GM crops could contaminate other natural breeds. Environmentalists worry about the creation of so-called “super weeds” and the loss of biodiversity.
“No one really knows what the long-term impact of GM will be on our health or the environment,” Friends of the Earth’s Oxborrow said. “Consumers in Europe know this and have made it perfectly clear that they don’t want to eat GM food.”
Holden said Americans are more accepting of biotechnology because they have not been given information about it. “There has never been a proper public debate (on GM crops) in America,” he said.