The Worldwide Debate
  Over GMO Foods

  Three Key Disagreements
  Effects on Business
  The Non-GMO Markets Continent by Continent

  In the last year of the second millennium, the rapid spread of genetically modified (GMO)
  food has given risen to a worldwide debate. It is a debate with powerful ramifications
  politically and economically, as well as in terms of health, the environment, and ethical
  issues about science and its side effects.

  At this point, strong consumer resistance to GMO foods has sprung up in Europe, Japan,
  Korea, Thailand, India, Australia and New Zealand. This has led to political and economic
  hostilities between governments in these regions and the government of the United States,
  which has strongly backed the development and use of genetic modification in the food

  Three Key Disagreements

  The technical aspects of the debate are complex, with credentialed scientists on both sides
  of the argument (see Pros and Cons). But three key issues have emerged as the debate has
  become increasingly public:

       1.THE NATURE OF GENETIC ENGINEERING: Proponents of GMO food maintain
         that genetic modification of DNA is only an extension of genetic evolution through
         natural reproductive means. They point out that genetic engineering is not
         restricted to the genes already within a particular species, but that it has access to a
         much wider choice of genetic material, thus allowing improvements to a species not
         otherwise possible. However, critics of GMO food say that genetic modification of
         plant DNA is unnatural, creating in the laboratory what could never happen in
         nature. In Britain, the Advertising Standards Authority decided that the "extension
         of natural evolution" argument is sufficiently misleading that biotech companies
         should not use it in their advertising. The more emotional critics sum this
         argument up in the phrase "Frankenstein Food." It is this deep disagreement over
         the essential nature of GMO food that underlies the entire debate.

       2.EFFECTS ON PHYSICAL HEALTH: Proponents of GMO food point out that more
         than a thousand scientific studies have been done to assess the effects of GMO foods
         on physical health. They repeatedly maintain that there is no evidence to suggest
         that GMO foods harm human health. In markets where resistance to GMO food is
         strong, however, critics argue that all the health-related research on GMO food has
         been done on animals, and almost all by the biotech companies themselves. They
         say that there is no evidence GMO food harms human health because there is no
         such evidence on human health at all--no studies have been done. Underlying this
         disagreement is the assumption by proponents that GMO food should be "innocent
         until proven guilty," and the assumption by critics that GMO food should be
         proven safe before it is marketed.

       3.EFFECTS ON THE ENVIRONMENT: Proponents make the case that GMO crops
         are "substantially equivalent" to conventional crops. The properties of the crops
         are sufficiently similar that no harm to the environment should ensue. But critics
         argue that corn (maize) which has been genetically modified to act as an
         insecticide, poisoning the insects which eat it, is hardly "substantially equivalent"
         to conventional corn. They point out that no environmental impact study has ever
         been done on any GMO crop. It is the uncertainty caused by potential and
         unpredictable environmental damage that has driven the most extreme activists to
         burn GMO crops in the field.

  Effects on Business

  Throughout 1999, the GMO debate has steadily escalated, and the demands from non-GMO
  markets have become increasingly stringent. Businesses in the food industry have had to
  react with increasingly dramatic steps to meet the escalating demands. At first, an exporter
  from North America to Europe, for example, could offer verbal assurances that the
  shipment was non-GMO. Then, to fulfill many contracts, it became necessary to provide at
  least one DNA test result demonstrating a low level of GMO contamination. By this time,
  however, buyers are increasingly demanding systematic certification programs, with
  independent assessment of the exporter's ability to segregate non-GMO from GMO
  products, and scientific testing at key control points in the process. In such a rapidly
  changing environment, it is increasingly important for farmers, shippers, processors and
  manufacturers to make specific contractual arrangements with their buyers. Without a
  clear understanding in each contract about how the GMO issue is to be handled, suppliers
  stand to be victimized by escalating requirements.

  The Non-GMO Markets Continent by Continent

  EUROPE: In the fall of 1998, the European Union adopted the world's first regulation
  demanding that GMO foods be clearly labeled, to allow consumer choice. On October 21,
  1999, the European Union adopted a 1% threshold, meaning that it was only those foods
  that contain more than 1% GMO in any ingredient that have to be labeled as containing
  GMO. As yet, no governmental regulation has established the threshold below which foods
  could be labeled "non-GMO," but scientific constraints indicate that such a threshold will
  most likely be "less than 0.1%".

  ASIA: The world's largest food importing nation, Japan, is the leading non-GMO market
  in Asia. The government has announced a labeling regulation similar to Europe's, with the
  threshold yet to be specified, and consumer desire is strong for non-GMO food, at the
  tightest standard that is scientifically practical. The Korean legislature has similarly
  adopted a labeling registration, and Thailand is exploring the concept of "GMO free"
  zones within which to grow non-GMO crops for the foreign markets that demand them. In
  India, the issue has been hotly debated and GMO test crops have been destroyed by
  activists. As an extension of a long-standing national distrust of foreign domination, many
  Indian politicians have expressed concern that foreign biotech companies would gain
  control of India's food supply, thus compromising the nation's sovereign status. China is
  the unknown quantity in Asia, with its intentions and activities on the GMO issue largely

  AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND: The Health Ministries of Australia and New
  Zealand have agreed on labeling, in principle, and are considering what would be the
  world's toughest regulation. As proposed, the regulation mandates that wholly modified
  foods would have to be identified in the brand name, that processed foods would need their
  GM components clearly marked in the ingredients list, and that even highly refined foods
  such as sugars and oils would be included in the labeling regulations. Segments of the
  Australian food industry are organizing systematic non-GMO certification programs, with
  an eye to taking market share in Japan and Europe.

  SOUTH AMERICA: Argentina's farmers have aggressively adopted GMO technology, but
  in Brazil court decisions have held up the commercial planting of GMO crops. Several
  provinces of Brazil have decided to become GMO-free zones regardless of what the national
  decision turns out to be, partly on ethical grounds and partly to have an advantage in
  international trade in non-GMO markets such as Europe and Japan. Brazil is the world's
  second-largest exporter of soybeans (second to the United States) and experts in the GMO
  issue feel that Brazil's future course will have a major impact on the biotech industry

  NORTH AMERICA: In the United States and Canada, GMO foods have been widely
  grown and marketed to the public with, until recently, little publicity and little public
  knowledge. The media only became interested in the issue in the late spring of 1999 when a
  study in Nature showed that pollen from GMO corn sickens and kills larvae of the
  monarch butterfly. Since then, the issue has begun to evolve as it has in other markets.
  Baby foods manufacturers such as Gerber's and Heinz have been the first to announce
  plans to produce non-GMO products, and consumer and environmental groups such as
  Greenpeace and the Sierra Club have publicly targeted the GMO issue. Major media such
  as the Washington Post and the New York Times have covered the issue extensively,
  including stories critical of the FDA's handling of GMO approvals. Although it is not yet
  known if public sentiment in North America will turn against GMO food as strongly as it
  has elsewhere, food industry businesses are preparing contingency plans.

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