ONE OF America’s most senior experts on biotechnology has warned that Europe won’t accept genetically modified (GM) foods unless there is a food crisis.
Addressing the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Food, Drink & Agriculture (CIM FDA) group last week, Jack Bobo, senior adviser for biotechnology at the US State Department, said with the public steadfastly against wider use of GM crops a change in attitude was unlikely without the pressure of a major food crisis.
“My fear is that it will take a crisis. The courage necessary to make the changes will only occur when everybody sees and feels the pain of not having biotechnology and then they require it,” he said. “That is the worst possible outcome, but it is also the most likely.”
Bringing about a change in attitudes without waiting for a crisis would require the parties involved to undertake a major public relations exercise that highlighted the benefits to consumers, said Bobo.
There needs to be a wider debate about “where GM fits in the food supply chain and European consumers need to be educated to the true source of the food they eat and its GM status”, he explained.
“Most consumers know nothing about food technology and only form an opinion when you ask them. We need to find a way of helping consumers to understand that GM is critical to the livestock industry.”
Last week, Bobo also spoke the Footprint Forum held at the US Embassy in London. He said food companies should be more transparent with consumers about GM. “Transparency is important. It’s important consumers know that poultry is fed GM soya – the average person doesn’t know these things.”
Crops bred using GM technology are now grown in 28 countries across the world. Bebo highlighted India, where yields have increased 55% thanks to GM. “Science and technology have been demonised but they deliver. Everything farmers do today they do better than they ever have done.
Food companies always want cheaper inputs and fewer pesticides [which GM crops have delivered], but they don’t like controversy – that’s why they choose not to put these [GM] products on their shelves.”