Asian consumers appear ready to embrace biotechnology

Fears over food supplies fuel support for controversial science

Concerns over the sustainability of the world's food supplies mean most consumers in Asia are ready to support the use of biotechnology, such as genetic modification (GM), in food production, according to new research.

A survey of people in five Asian countries, commissioned by Thailand-based Asian Food Information Centre, found that a majority supported the use of plant biotechnology in relation to sustainable food production.

Most in favour were consumers in India (95 per cent), China (94 per cent), and the Philippines (92 per cent). Consumers in South Korea (71 per cent) and Japan (67 per cent) were less enthusiastic, but the results nonetheless demonstrated how attitudes to GM product are changing as concerns mount over how the world's fast-growing population will be fed in years to come.

"Our survey showed overwhelming support for biotechnology when it is viewed as a component of sustainable food production," George Fuller, executive director at the Asian Food Information Centre, told Functional Ingredients.

"There was a higher degree of acceptance in countries where agriculture is important — China, India and the Philippines — than in countries where a large part of the food needs are met by imports, such as Japan and Korea.?But even in Japan and Korea, where consumers had more scepticism toward biotechnology, acceptance increases markedly when biotechnology is linked to sustainable production of food.

"This allows policy makers and food companies in those countries to consider adopting or expanding the use of biotechnology as a tool to increase agricultural productivity."

Biotech food is already available in some Asian countries, said Fuller. "The Philippines has been growing insect-resistant corn for six years, and more recently China approved virus-resistant papaya.? Asia has also been a net importer of biotech corn, canola and soybeans from the US and Latin America for more than 10 years for animal feed and processing into cooking oil.?The latest report on global adoption of biotechnology from ISAAA (the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications) suggests that the approval of insect-protected brinjal is imminent in India, and the approval of Golden Rice is expected in the Philippines."

He added: "It is difficult to imagine the food needs of Asia being met without including biotechnology as a component of the drive to increase food productivity.?All possible tools must be considered and decisions based on sound science rather than political considerations."

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