Conference OKs GM foods, but buyers beware

New EU legislation currently being drawn up is unlikely to do anything to safeguard consumers and the environment from genetically modified organisms, due to loopholes which will probably increase the spread of GM organisms and necessarily accommodate vested interests. The Greek position remains hazy, though for the first time the view was expressed that a turn toward quality in Greek foodstuffs must incorporate biotechnology. On Tuesday, at a one-day conference organized by the National Foundation for Agricultural Research (ETHIAGE) to inform consumers of biotechnological achievements, representatives of the ministries of the Environment and Agriculture, G. Alvanopoulos and T. Kastriotis respectively, preferred to focus on the difficulties they face in drawing up legislation rather than define the Greek position on the issue. As for informing the consumer, A. Asimakopoulou of the European Food Agency said that consumers’ role had been overstressed. «On such issues, consumers are stupid and imagine that they are able to judge,» she said, adding that «when we take decisions, we must take into account the huge investments that have been made in the sector of biotechnology research.» According to the new legislation on foods that contain GM organisms, labeling will be obligatory only if the foods contain over 1 percent of GM organisms. At the same time, while labeling of GM animal feed is stipulated for the first time, products derived from animals fed on GM feed will be not be labeled accordingly. In addition, one of the basic problems of the new regulations is that they allow the mixing of conventional seeds with a percentage of GM strains that may not have been approved. As all the participants at the conference stressed, the cost of implementing the legislation will largely determine how the new legislation shapes up in practice. Hellenic Food Authority President Christos Papanikolaou said certification that a product contains no GM organisms will raise the price by 10 percent. But no one can guarantee that GM foods are wholly safe for human beings and the environment. As G. Maniatis, a professor at Patras University and member of the National Bioethics Committee, said, science cannot prove that nothing will go wrong, so possible benefits and dangers need to be weighed up. But GM foods are of unproven benefit. Research has shown that benefits trumpeted by biotech firms, such as reduction in pesticide use, do not stand up to examination.