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[RIO DE JANEIRO] Almost three quarters of Brazilians polled in a new survey said that they would avoid eating genetically modified (GM) food, and more than two-thirds said that GM crops should be banned. Only 14 per cent said that they were in favour of such food, the remaining 12 per cent saying that they had no opinion.

The survey, carried out by the Brazilian Institute of Public and Statistical Opinion (IBOPE), a private body, sought the view of two thousand Brazilians, selected at random across the country, through personal interviews and questionnaires.

More than 90 per cent of those polled said that products containing genetically modified ingredients should be labelled as such, a view reflected in Brazilian government’s decision this year to draw up rules requiring such labelling.

Under these rules, which will go into effect in 2002, products containing more than 4% of transgenic ingredients, measured by either weight or volume, must be labelled (in Europe, the limit is 1%).

In addition, 67% of the respondents said that GM crops should not be grown in Brazil until the risks involved are fully understood. At present, both growing GM crops and commercialising transgenic products are forbidden by law in Brazil.

The multinational company Monsanto has been trying since 1998 to commercialise the transgenic soy Roundup Ready, but has so far failed to obtain official permission to do so. The market implications are significant, as Brazil is the world’s second largest producer of soy, being responsible for 20% of world production.

Despite the legal ban, however, there are reports of transgenic soy crops being grown illegally in the south of the country from seed smuggled from Argentina, where 80% of the crop is genetically modified. Furthermore, the Institute of Consumer Defence (IDEC) and Greenpeace alleged earlier this year that there are already GM products being marketed at the country.

Leila Oda, president of the National Association of Biosafety in Brazil, says that the results of the IBOPE survey reflect a lack of knowledge about transgenic crops among the Brazilian public. “People are strongly influenced by the mass media, which present GM food as Frankenstein food”, she says.

Others point out, however, that the proportion of those surveyed that rejected GM foods was even greater (85%) among respondents with higher purchasing power and educational background than in the overall sample.

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