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[RIO DE JANEIRO] Almost two thirds of Brazilians have never heard of genetically modified (GM) food, according to a new survey. But after being given an explanation of what GM organisms are, 71 per cent would prefer to consume products that are GM-free.

Two thousand Brazilians across the country were interviewed as part of the survey, which was conducted in December by the Brazilian Institute of Public and Statistical Opinion (IBOPE).

Two thirds of those questioned supported the government's policy of forbidding the cultivation of GM crops and 38 per cent were concerned about the market implications, believing that Brazil could have difficulties in exporting GM food. More than half thought that GM foods could damage the environment, and nearly two thirds that they could pose a hazard to human health.

Silvio Valle, head of a biosafety course at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, is unconcerned that most Brazilians have not heard of GM food. “Only 25 to 30 per cent of US citizens say they know what GM organisms are,” he says.

And Rubens Onofre Nodari, a researcher from the Federal University of Santa Catarina, notes that the number of Brazilians who have heard of GM food has increased by 6 per cent since the last IBOPE study was carried out in August 2001 (see Brazilians shun GM food).

“We have been observing an evolution in the number of people that are familiar with the issue,” says Nodari. But the percentage of those who would choose not to eat GM foods remained similar across the two surveys. And the number saying that products containing GM ingredients should be labelled — 90 per cent — was unchanged.

“If we continue to discuss the topic of GM food with the general public, soon more than half of the population will know about these products," Nodari says. "The Brazilian population has shown a mature attitude toward complex and controversial issues”.

The commercialisation of GM crops is prohibited in Brazil although some GM crops — cultivated from seeds smuggled from Argentina — have been found, mainly in the south of the country. Brazilian law states that products containing more than 4 per cent of transgenic ingredients must be labelled. In Europe, the limit is 1 per cent.

Click here for more information on the survey (in Portuguese)

Related articles:

GM food gets the green light in Brazil, 15 March 2002

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