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SHOPPING AND RETAIL

GM food? 'No, thank you,' say Slovaks

According to a recent survey, the vast majority of Slovaks say they do not want to eat genetically modified (GM) food and prefer a naturally grown diet.
However, shoppers are as yet not able to tell which food has undergone the modification.
The survey, carried out by Focus agency and ordered by Greenpeace Slovakia, was published in October 2001 and revealed that 88% of respondents preferred natural food over GM, and 92% agreed that all modified food should have a GMO (genetically modified organism) label on the package.

According to a recent survey, the vast majority of Slovaks say they do not want to eat genetically modified (GM) food and prefer a naturally grown diet.

However, shoppers are as yet not able to tell which food has undergone the modification.

The survey, carried out by Focus agency and ordered by Greenpeace Slovakia, was published in October 2001 and revealed that 88% of respondents preferred natural food over GM, and 92% agreed that all modified food should have a GMO (genetically modified organism) label on the package.

More than 60% of respondents thought that GM food should be banned.

"GM food sounds scary. If given the choice, I'd definitely go for natural food. But now there's not much I can do. Except for some tofu cheese which has the label already, I can't tell which food is natural," said 23 year-old Jana Baková from Bratislava.

But soon she will be able to tell the difference. A paragraph within the country's food code requests producers give consumers details about a product's genetic modification as of January 1, 2002.

In line with EU legislation Slovak producers will have to make sure to place a GMO label on the respective packages.

Should a producer fail to do so, State Veterinary and Food Inspection institute will be able to fine the company up to Sk1 million ($20,000).

According to Ján Štulc, head of the controls department with the Slovak Agricultural and Food Inspection (SPPI) unit in Bratislava, the public animosity towards GM was partly a result of lacking information combined with "the one-sided, anti GM argument presented in media".

"Media and environmentalists scared people although it hasn't been scientifically proven that GM food has a negative impact on people's health," Štulc said adding that he thought the GM process was in its essence comparable to a centuries' long practice of plant cultivation.

According to the European Commission's glossary genetically modified food is "foods and food ingredients consisting of or containing genetically modified organisms, or produced from such organisms". GMO is defined as "an organism produced from genetic engineering techniques that allow the transfer of functional genes from one organism to another".

Of the GM food available in Slovak stores the majority is US imported vegetables such as tomatoes and potatoes and products made of them. Peter Siekel, geneticist with the Food Research Institute in Bratislava estimated that about 30% of soy products contained GMO.

An expert with the US Department of Agriculture David Heron who recently participated at a workshop on legal aspects of GM food use organised in May 2001 in the Slovak town of Nitra, said that it was the scientists' duty to see that food offered to consumers was safe above all other concerns.

"For me as a scientist seeing the great losses on harvests in the US and around the world makes me think about the possibilities offered by GMO. But I'm primarily interested in the safety of all products.," Heron said.

Martin Hojsík, co-ordinator of Greenpeace's anti GM campaign did not agree. Although he said that Slovak food companies did not produce food containing GMO his organisation has appealed to about 65 retail shops and food producers around the country not to sell or produce imported GM food.

As a result of their actions various retail shops in Slovakia such as Billa have pledged not to sell GM food or not to include GM substances to their own products, such as Tesco's, or Carrefour.

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