Australian phobia about GM foods

Misinformation about genetically modified foods (GMs) has created a climate of global fear. In Australia, there are concerns that GM foods will damage eco-systems, promote "greedy" multinational corporations and hurt farmers' export sales, says agriculture economist Phillip Killicoat.

These fears are based on some half-truths, says Killicoat. For example:

  • Anti-GM activists claim environmental damage from GM foods based on an Iowa State University study where butterflies died from eating large amounts of insect-resistant maize leaves

  • Accusations against multinational corporations come from a 1997 case in Canada where a man was accused by Monsanto company of illegally growing a type of canola developed by Monsanto; Canadian courts sided with Monsanto.

  • Australians fear that growing GM crops will tarnish their image as being "clean and green," and they will lose market share in exporting crops to Europe; indeed, the European Union (EU) Parliament prohibits the importation of crops that are not certified as "GM-free."

    However, consider the other side of the stories:

  • In the University of Iowa study, it was basically ignored that butterflies do not have an affinity for maize leaves and they were fed far more than they would normally eat; the study has since been discredited.

  • In Monsanto's case against the canola grower, the defendant became the "poster child" for accusations that multinational companies are greedy and their products should be banned, even though the Canadian court ruled that Monsanto was correct

  • Concerns over the EU's refusal to import GM crops are not based on safety concerns, but are simply a way for the EU to keep out further competition from imports.

    Ironically, it would seem that those concerned about the environment should support GM foods. After all, Australian farmers would be able to reduce their chemical use on plants by 70 percent with the adoption of pest-resistant GM crops, says Killicoat.

    Source: Phillip Killicoat, Food Phobias: Behind the Fuss Over GM Crops, Policy, Vol. 20, No.1, Autumn 2004, Centre for Independent Studies.

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    For more on Biotechnology: Biotech and Food

    FMF Policy Bulletin/5 October 2004
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