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May 5, 2000


From labelling to general issues


- http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

Dear Greg, Carl, and all the rest,

Sometimes I find myself more comfortable just looking, as (I insist) I am
not a biotech specialist. But, OK, reading yours and the rest of messages in
this list (most of them really interesting and educative), and in other
similar ones, I find several points to comment:

1.Biotech is, no doubt about it, an excellent tool, if not the only one, to
progress towards feeding the world now and in future. The list has shown
plenty of examples about this. I am reasonably sure that a day will come
when biotech food products will be fully appreciated ("the meals of our
grandparents", could it be?). But I am not so sure about the lapse required
to reach this.

2.In the meanwhile, the information battle is being lost. It has happened in
the past: Stephenson steam machine reached some 35 km/h (20 mph, isn't it?),
which was considered far too fast for human bodies' resistance [ :-O ]. I
have seen, in the Brussels underground, ads by Greenpeace showing a
grenade-like corn ready to explode. Closer to my area: someone related with
the Spanish beer makers told me recently that the whole sector was gradually
replacing corn starch (used up to 30%) by barley, even knowing that the beer
resulting would be different and, who knows, perhaps not very well accepted
by their consumers; they considered the costs of being accused of using GM
raw materials (it is impossible, they say, to make sure that all corn used
is not GM) much higher, according to the current trends (although they don't
talk about the ways they improve their fermentative yeasts). And so on.

3.As Greg notes, it is probably too late to turn the situation upside down,
although in the past there must have been better chances to market it
properly. The real advantages were not publicized enough: consumers noticed
only a lack of flavor where there was, let's say, improved resistance to
mechanical damage and, consequently, a lower risk of losses.

4.The approach in US and EU is obviously different, due to many factors; you
and other contributors to the list commented some of them. But the effects
seem to be quite similar. Big US-based corporations are claiming (and doing,
I suppose, but I am not so sure) to reject GM foods from now on. What is the
future, then?

I focused my former message in labelling (and probably my examples were not
chosen well enough), just to show that, to my opinion, labelling GM foods
(or not-GM) is not so different from some mandatory information currently
appliable. Many ingredients that have to be listed haven't been described as
potentially hazardous for health. I thank the excellent explanations you
gave me; a part from details in focus, things are not so different between
US and EU regulations (this doesn't exclude me to be amazed sometimes, just
as you may be in knowing some European practices). And, of course, both
protect industrial procedures from publicity.

Anyway, it can be as reasonable to declare the use of GM foods as not to
declare it; I think that legislators can have a word about this, and it
seems that across the Atlantic ocean the opinions about this issue change
quite radically. No matter if each of both options involve costs for the
enterprises; at this very moment what seems to be costly is the use of GM
foods itself, not the duty declare them. There have been too many
coincidences at once: several health hazards showing up, specially in
Europe, in a short lapse (see the EMBO declaration in one of the first
messages in this list), or studies showing that a really hazardous product,
as tobacco is, has been including for decades hidden ingredients to
enhance the dependence of smokers; here, and for many years, even the US
failed in assessing the real danger.

That's why (I insist in this) it is at least understandable that common
people are quite suspicious and tend to believe what I called the other side
of the fence. Obviously, I don't have an answer to this situation (had I it,
I would be billionaire at this moment!). Could it be more and more
information+education? I will keep reading what is said in this list; so
many authorised people must, at the end, outline this answer.

Estanislau Fons