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Hungary confident on retaining GMO ban

By Neil Merrett , 09-Feb-2007

The Hungarian government is confident it will be allowed to retain a ban on a genetically modified maize crop approved for feed use in the European Union, when the issue - which could have signifcant affects for the wider food industry - is debated later this month.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of the talks, Hungary's state secretary Kalman Kovacs announced that there was sufficient anti-GM feeling within the EU to ensure support for the country's stand.

"We hope that after the lobbying of recent weeks and knowing the development of EU countries' opinion it will be possible to preserve the ban," he said.

The latest EU GMO debate, to be held on 20 February, will aim to discuss a number of issues regarding the use of scientifically altered crops within both food, and non-consumables production.

Of particular concern is the possibility that the EU may impose a draft order for Hungary to lift its objection to US producer Monsanto's MON 810 maize seeds- already in use elsewhere in the bloc.

Robert Fridrich of environmental group Friends of the Earth Hungary, told CEE-Fooindustry.com that the ban will be vital to protecting the future of the Hungarian food industry for both processors and producers.

"Hungary is the second biggest corn feed producer in Europe and Hungary's reputation as a GMO free country is very important to this," he said.

"The European public are very much against the use of GMO products, which gives Hungary a massive advantage in the market place."

As well as the possible costs to the reputation of the country's products, Fridrich added that the economic upheavals of adopting GMO's would also have a negative impact on the industry.

"To incorporate GMO production would not just require a wealth of costly legislative measures, but additional laboratory taxes for any company or producing wishing to use the products."

With these factors considered, Fridrich also remains confident that the ban will remain in place.

"When looking back at earlier debates over GMO issue in September 51 per cent were in favour of the ban," he said.

"By December during a similar discussion over an Austrian GMO ban, two thirds were in support and as such come 20 February, we are quite sure that Hungary will receive necessary support."

Despite this confidence, not all are happy with the country's anti-GM stance. Critics of the ban suggest that possible EU reluctance to the use of GMO's could hold back food industries in developing markets in Eastern Europe.

Speaking to CEE-Foodindustry.com last month, Prof. Dr Marc Van Montagu of the Institute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries, suggested that anti-GM sentiment was too often based on fear, than scientific fact.

"I am convinced that most people's attitudes are changing towards the use of GMO's in the food industry," he said. Adding: "the industry is seeing past the 'Frankenstein foods' image and is now beginning to realize there are no rational arguments for not using GMO's in food production."

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