GMO COMPASS - Information on genetically modified organisms
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Eurobarometer 2006

GM Food: Europeans Still See More Risks than Benefits




Acceptance of biotechnology among Europeans is on the rise. According to the latest Eurobarometer survey, slightly more than half of European citizens are confident that applications of biotechnology will improve their quality of life – particularly when biotech is used for medicine and bio-based industrial applications. Regarding GM foods on the other hand, most Europeans remain sceptical. Unconvinced of the technology’s benefits, most respondents expressed moral objections and concerns about potential risks.

The recently released Eurobarometer survey is the sixth such study conducted since 1991. The latest edition is based on the responses of 25,000 citizens – approximately 1,000 individuals from each of the 25 EU Member States.

Support for GM foods (percent); EU Member States. The EU-wide average is 27 percent.

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Support for GM foods among the "decided" participants from selected EU Member States 1996-2005: Decided supporters include all participants who consider GM crops useful, morally acceptable, and feel they should be encouraged. Decided supporters may or may not agree the technology is risky. The decided non-supporters do not see GM food as useful, morally acceptable, or worthy of support. Decided supporters and decided non-supporters added up to approx. half of all participants. (Eurobarometer Survey Biotechnology 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005)

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Willingness of Europeans to buy GM food based on given circumstances: Most Europeans would buy GM food if they were considered healthier and used less pesticides. But authorisation from the EU and lower prices don't appear to be enough to get Europeans to choose GM.

Faith in biotechnology… but little appetite for GM food

Europeans are becoming increasingly optimistic about biotechnology, as has been the trend in the EU since 1999. Support is especially strong for medical applications of biotechnology, as long as there are clear benefits for human health. Many Europeans also support industrial applications of biotechnology, also known as “white” biotechnology. As examples the survey discussed ethanol fuel production, biodegradable plastics, and transgenic plants designed to produce pharmaceuticals. Even the controversial field of stem cell research is widely supported in Europe, provided it is tightly regulated.

According to the study, confidence in the European Union’s regulation of biotechnology is on the rise. Nonetheless, this doesn’t seem to have changed Europeans’ purchasing intentions – especially when it comes to Europe’s distaste for GM food. Even the EU’s recently overhauled regulatory framework for GMO authorisation and labelling has yet to make Europeans more accepting of food made from genetically engineered plants. In fact, only 27 percent of survey participants believe that the technology behind GM foods should be encouraged (see upper left). It seems that most consumers have a hard time seeing any clear benefits associated with genetically engineered crops. Meanwhile, the public is clearly concerned about potential risks to human health and the environment.

A Patchwork of Attitudes toward GM Food in the EU

The acceptance of genetically modified foods in Europe has been shifting significantly over the years. After a period of rising scepticism from 1996 to 1999, an increase in support was observed with the 2002 study. Since 2002, the support for GM foods has taken another downturn. For more and more people, the perceived risks of GM food outweigh the benefits.

Looking at a subset of participants considered “decided” on the issue, acceptance of GM foods across Europe stands at 42 percent (see middle left). Of the “decided” subset, supporters outnumber opponents in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Czech Republic, and Lithuania. In contrast, supporters are few and far between especially in Austria, Greece, Hungary, Germany, and Latvia.

Possible Benefits of GM-Food: Health Before Wallet

The survey asked participants for the circumstances under which they would choose to buy GM food. The results showed that benefits for human health would be the forerunning reason to opt for GMOs. Reducing pesticide use appeared to be another important factor that would compel European consumers to choose a GM product. Most respondents, however, claimed they wouldn’t reach for GM products just to save a few euros. Authorisation by European authorities also wasn’t seen by most Europeans as a good enough reason to give GM foods a try (see lower left).

According to the researchers’ interpretations, certain individuals are inclined to reject GMOs across the board, regardless of the circumstances or potential benefits. As soon as a respondent entertained the possibility of accepting GMOs on certain conditions, most respondents found several acceptable circumstances that would whet their appetites for foods from GM plants.
 

 


An EU Research Project

What are the risks of growing GM crops?

What are the benefits?

Numerous studies have addressed the potential impacts of genetically modified (GM) plants. Yet the existing evidence on the effects of GM plants is often contradictory and the quality of scientific research varies widely.

Therefore, the GRACE project will establish new tools for assessing the quality of existing studies and will conduct comprehensive reviews to identify health, environmental and socio-economic impacts of GM plants.

More information

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Plants for the Future
Crops and Cereals
Gm Plants: Cultivation and Futur Projects
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Crops and Cereals
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June 22, 2006 [nach oben springen]

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