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Fifty five per cent of Costa Ricans have not heard of genetically modified (GM) plants and animals, according to a new survey. But about half of those who had would buy food from GM plants if the price was no different from non-GM food and if they thought that GM crops posed no risks to the environment.

The study, by Ana Sittenfeld and Ana Espinoza from the University of Costa Rica, found that 21 per cent feared that GM food was a health risk, while about 30 per cent were supportive of research into GM crops. A similar proportion trusted regulatory institutions.

"In general, more educated people responded more positively to GM crops in terms of acceptance and environmental and food safety issues, whereas low income and low education groups answered more frequently 'do not know' or simply did not respond," the authors write in the journal Trends in Plant Science. 'Do not know' or 'did not respond' responses were also higher for women.

The survey was conducted in May and June 2001 and involved 1,000 Costa Ricans aged 18 years and over.

Costa Rica has not released any GM products for commercial purposes. In 1990, a National Biotechnology Committee was created, which has developed regulations for granting permits for field trials of GM crops. For example, transgenic rice resistant to the rice hoja blanca virus and to the herbicide ammonium glufosinate are now in field trials in Costa Rica.

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Link to survey by Ana Sittenfeld and Ana Espinoza, published on BioMedNet*

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