ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

2 October 2002

ANOTHER INDUSTRY FRONT GROUP?

The letter below from the Singapore press follows on from a recent flurry of news items in the Asian press on how Asian consumers are more open minded than their European counterparts about "foods derived from modern biotechnology" (read: genetic engineering). These articles were prompted by a press release from the Asian Food Information Centre (AFIC) reporting a survey of "consumers' attitudes and knowledge".

According to the press release, "The Asian Food Information Centre (AFIC) is a Singapore-registered not for profit organisation. Its role is to effectively communicate science-based information to the media and other key audiences in the Asia Pacific region."

Consumer surveys are not the only way in which the AFIC seeks to fulfil this role. It has also collaborated with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) to develop for the Asia Pacific region a special educational guide, "Food Biotechnology: a Communications Guide to Enhance Understanding"
[http://www.isaaa.org/press%20release/Food_Biotech.htm]

On its website the AFIC tells us that, "Accurate information about food safety, nutrition and health needs to be communicated clearly to both opinion leaders and consumers. The Asian Food Information Centre was established to meet this need."

But who established this "communications organisation" which covers "the entire Asian region"?

According to the website, "Founded in 1998 as a non-profit organisation, it is funded by broad-based support from the food, beverage and agricultural industries." [http://www.afic.org/profile.asp]

Sound familiar? That wording is remarkably similar to that used by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) on their website where they say, "IFIC is supported primarily by the broad-based food, beverage and agricultural industries."

As we've previously noted, although the IFIC, like the AFIC,  does not include any information about its funders on its site, resarch has shown the list includes MONSANTO, not to mention Aventis, BASF, Cargill, Dow, DuPont, and Syngenta. [http://ngin.tripod.com/290902a.htm]

Adding to the suspicion that the AFIC's out of exactly the same stable, among the AFIC's links to other sites is one to the IFIC which states, "IFIC is a similar organisation to AFIC based in the US."
[http://www.afic.org/sites.asp]

It would be interesting to know whether the AFIC's surveys similarly match the IFIC's in being deliberately designed to prompt positive responses about "foods derived from modern biotechnology"
[http://ngin.tripod.com/290902a.htm]

The ISAAA, with whom the AFIC collaborates, also receives substantial biotech industry funding. It even has Syngenta on its board (Monsanto previously had a seat). See: 'ISAAA in Asia -- Promoting Corporate Profit in the Name of the Poor', GRAIN briefing
http://www.grain.org/publications/isaaa-en.cfm

***

Asian views on GM food not presented accurately

DANIEL KOH KAH SOON
The Straits Times (Singapore) September 24, 2002

I REFER to the article, 'Asians are game to try GM foods' (ST, Sept 21). The report put out by the Asian Food Information Centre (AFIC) presented what seems to be a one-sided and unhelpful view of Asian attitudes towards genetically modified (GM) food. The AFIC draws a superficial conclusion based on a survey of 600 people in three countries. It is ludicrous to suggest that the limited number of people surveyed in so few countries can represent accurately the views of so diverse, populous and vast a continent as Asia. But what is equally disconcerting is the AFIC's endorsement of the opinion of people who have little or no knowledge of GM food and the multi-faceted issues surrounding it. No reliable assessment can be made about GM food (or other issues) unless the consumers are given access to dependable information to help them make a responsible, informed judgment. According to the ST report, the survey respondents had declared that they have a 'poor knowledge of GM foods'. If that is the case, it is disingenuous for the AFIC to gloat that 'if they (Asians) wanted to take action on GM food, they would avoid these ... products. But they didn't.'

 Is it not obvious that if Asians continue to consume GM food, it is not necessarily because they love them and have no problem with them? Besides the fact that they do not have sufficient knowledge of issues relating to GM food - like nutrition, social costs to farmers, monopoly, protection of the environment and biodiversity - it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that uninformed Asians have little or no choice but to accept the food on offer, especially so if it is part of their staple diet.

 Your report also mentioned that 'Western counterparts ... tend to be sceptical about GM foods'. I hope this does not imply that scepticism is a bad idea for Asians. A little scepticism is healthy. It shows that we care - deeply. To be fair, what sceptical Europeans reject is the attempt by some food industries and their lobbyists to make them guinea pigs without having a thorough debate on the impact of GM food on the well-being of the people and the environment. Unfortunately, Asians without access to reliable information cannot make an informed decision on GM food.

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