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9-Misc: NCGA leaders share lessons learned on biotech mission to EUand Russia

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TITLE:  NCGA Leaders Share Lessons Learned on Biotech Mission to EU, Russia
SOURCE: National Corn Growers Association, USA, Press Release
DATE:   6 Jul 2004 

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NCGA Leaders Share Lessons Learned on Biotech Mission to EU, Russia

The use of biotechnology in agriculture continues to ignite debate among
farmers, governmental officials and consumers in the European Union (EU).
While many European growers recognize the potential of biotechnology,
alarmist consumer groups and media have prevented widespread acceptance
of biotech crops, according to National Corn Growers Association (NCGA)
leaders who recently returned from a fact-finding mission to the EU and

Joined by members of the U.S. Grains Council, NCGA leaders spent nearly
two weeks in Italy, Austria, Hungary, Poland and Russia gauging attitudes
toward biotechnology. NCGA President Dee Vaughan said attitudes toward
biotechnology have changed since the first USGC-NCGA joint mission four
years ago.

"We've seen some incremental progress, especially with the governments,
but there is still much work to be done," Vaughan said. "These
governments argued before that biotech acceptance was a food safety
issue, but now most of them appear to understand that isn't the case. Now
they're arguing that biotech crops can't co-exist with organic crops, so
now we're addressing that concern."

While countries like Russia and Poland seemed more open to biotechnology,
other nations like Austria appeared as unreceptive as ever, according to
Vaughan. "From what we gathered, Austria has no desire to use biotech at
all," he said. "Most farms in Austria are very small and they're looking
to simply maintain the status quo."

The group was encouraged by its talks with Russian officials, Vaughan
said. "Russia seemed much more receptive to biotechnology," he said.
"They're a science-based society and they seemed very willing to look at
this issue with open minds."

NCGA Biotech Working Group Chair Helen Inman said many of the farmers the
group met with seemed to appreciate the promise of biotechnology. But
because of consumer attitudes and regulatory challenges, many EU growers
view the use of biotech products as a hopeless endeavor.

"There are some farmers in the countries we visited that probably would
be interested in using biotechnology," Inman said. "But they're worried
that there won't be a market for their crops because of the widespread
misunderstanding and fear of biotech products in the EU."

Inman said the international press, consumer groups and environmental
activists have perpetuated misinformation and inaccuracies concerning
biotechnology. "Fringe groups like Greenpeace have had quite an influence
on public opinion in the EU," she said. "Because of these groups and
negative media reports, many of these countries don't completely trust
this technology and they don't want to change."

Vaughan said one of NCGA's goals is to dispel popular myths by continuing
an open dialogue with EU governments and farmers. "We heard all kinds of
myths about biotech," he said. "One of our objectives was to put out as
much good information as we could and get the facts into the hands of the
decision makers. We're not pushing biotech for biotech's sake. We're
advocating biotech as another tool in the farmer's toolbox. If it doesn't
make sense for the farmer to use it, we certainly understand that. But we
do believe the farmer should at least have the choice to decide."

Inman agreed, stating, "Our purpose was not to travel around the EU and
tell everyone 'you have to use biotech.' We just want farmers and
consumers in the EU to have the option to use biotechnology in
agriculture and to buy products that contain biotech."


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