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Italy is 'weak point' of EU's anti-GM defences

Italy is the Achilles heel of the campaign to maintain Europe's defences against genetically modified crops, a US report has said, adding that the region's consumers are not as opposed to the technology as is portrayed.

With 65% of Italians supporting biotechnology, and the Vatican a "vocal advocate" of GM crops as a way of easing hunger in Africa, the country was a "good place to start" a campaign to "educate" Europeans about GM crops.

"Italy may present uniquely valuable opportunity for improving public opinion about biotechnology in the EU," her report said.

Engaging Italy's consumers in the biotechnology debate could help battle the "minority composed of fringe groups and government officials [which] are responsible for Italy's ban on biotech crops and food", Cynthia Barmore, US Department of Agriculture attaché in Rome, said.

'Misperception' 

Indeed, Europeans as a whole "may not be as intractably negative as it is often portrayed" about GM foods, the briefing added, quoting 2005 research.

"In fact, public opinion is fairly divided," Ms Barmore said.

"Part of the misperception about European public opinion is the disproportionate attention paid to fringe activists who are not representative of the general public.

"Most Europeans have heard of biotechnology, but they are not activists and their opinions are not very strong."

Price factor 

The task of winning government consents to at least sell GM foods in retailers, rested in part on the battleground chosen, with arguments on environmental and pesticide considerations more likely to bear fruit than those based on value for money.

"When price becomes the salient factor, Europeans may believe the price comes at the expense of quality or safety," the report said.

Doctors and academics may prove more effective advocates than government or industry figures.

America is home to some of the world's biggest GM seeds group, including Dow Chemical, DuPont and Monsanto. European rivals include Germany's Bayer and, outside the EU, Switzerland's Syngenta.

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