Europeans are more optimistic about biotechnology than ever before, but this acceptance does not extend to their view of genetically modified foods, according to a new survey.
Due to be presented at a workshop in Brussels tomorrow, the report to the European Commission's Directorate-General for Research examines the patterns and trends of consumer response to biotechnology in Europe.
The Eurobarometer report, which is the sixth in a series of surveys conducted since 1991, reveals that although Europeans generally support the use of medical and industrial biotechnology, their overall feeling on genetically modified (GM) food is that it should not be encouraged.
"GM food is widely seen as not being useful, as morally unacceptable and as a risk for society," said the report.
Based on a representative sample of 25,000 respondents- approximately 1,000 from each EU Member State, the survey reveals that 58 percent of Europeans oppose GM food.
Greatest opposition is seen in Austria, Greece, Hungary, Germany and Latvia.
Countries with the highest level of acceptance for GM foods include Malta, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and Portugal.
According to the survey, there are mixed opinions on the acceptability of buying GM food, with the most persuasive reasons relating to health, the reduction of pesticide residues and environmental impacts.
Whether GM food is approved by the relevant authorities or is cheaper remain unconvincing, said the report.
The controversial debate surrounding the use of genetically modified organisms in food took a step forward in February when a landmark WTO decision ruled that the EU and six member states broke trade rules by barring entry to GM crops and foods.
By agreeing with the United States, Argentina and Canada that an effective moratorium on GM imports between June 1999 and August 2003 had been put in place, the ruling effectively opened up the European market to GM food.
Consumer choice has now become the ideal that both the supporting and the opposing camps claim to hold.
Anti-GM campaigners argue that GM crops will cause widespread contamination, leaving consumers with no GM-free choice at all. Pro-GM forces on the other hand argue that consumers must be given the choice, and that the WTO ruling backs this up.
According to the new report, "the introduction of the new regulationson the commercialisation of GM crops and the labelling of GM food appears to have done little to allay the European public's anxieties about agri-food biotechnology.
For a full copy of the report, click here .