London, 13 May, 2005 – Two highly significant pieces of information have emerged this week.

As Tom West, vice president of biotechnology affairs for Pioneer Hi-Bred International, put it on Monday: "Today, we have hit an amazing milestone -- somewhere in the northern hemisphere, a farmer has planted the one billionth acre of seed containing biotech traits".

Year by year since 1995, without fail, the global acreage planted to GM crops has increased by leaps and bounds. Never has there been an agricultural technology adopted so rapidly and with such enthusiasm.

All the prophesies of doom have fallen flat: farmers are not disappointed nor are they abandoning GM methods; the usage of pesticide is going down and being diverted from more to less undesirable compounds; consumers do buy the products; and more and more countries around the world are adopting agricultural biotechnology practices or gearing up to do so. Only in Europe – as usual – are we still arguing instead of doing.

But even Europe is not entirely static: more GM products are being approved and public opinion is moving. In the latest Eurobarometer survey, published on April 29th, 40% of Europeans say that they lack information on the use of GM crops in farming. In spite of all the material put out in recent years, that makes GM the second most poorly understood environmental topic for Europeans, closely following the impact of chemicals used in everyday products on our health (41%). Lack of information is felt especially strongly in Finland, affecting 66% of respondents - 20% above the EU average. The number of ill-informed is also high in Slovenia (56%), Greece (54%) and Slovakia (54%), as well as Germany (49%) and Austria (44%). Feeling best-informed on GMOs are Portugal (only 28% ill-informed), Italy (33%), Spain (33%) and Latvia (33%). The UK stood at 37%.

Most respondents, while acknowledging their relative lack of understanding, do not include GM technology and its products among their major environmental concerns. Greece and Austria stand out on GMOs in the study, appearing to be the two member states where there is both the highest concern on GMOs combined with little information and understanding. Might the two go hand in hand?

Placing environmental concerns in rank order put the use of genetically modified organisms
in farming in tenth place (24% concerned, 26% in the UK), far below water pollution (47%) and climate change (45%) but above noise pollution (10%)

Sources:

1. Amy Lorentzen (May 10th, 2005). Seed Industry Says One-Billionth Acre of Biotech Seed Has Been Planted. Environmental News Network (http://enn.com/biz.html?id=572)

2. The attitudes of European citizens towards environment. European Commission (April 2005) (http://europa.eu.int/comm/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_217_sum_en.pdf.)


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  A billion acres and 459 million Europeans