Genetically modified food in the Czech Republic

Parliament has approved a law making it compulsory for genetically modified foods to be labeled. If the Senate approves the law and President Havel signs it, Czechs will be able to tell whether they are buying genetically modified foods as of January 1, 2001, which isn't very far away since the whole issue still hasn't been dealt with to such a degree as in many other parts of the world. Olga Szantova has been finding out how the general public and the authorities are getting ready for the new regulations.

I visited a local self-service food store. I asked several customers if they knew whether the food they bought was genetically modified?

No, no, not at all...

No, no.

A general picture confirmed by the lady who runs the self-service store, when I asked her whether the food she sold was genetically modified?

No, no I don't and I know nothing about it.

And are your customers interested, do they ask?

The customers? No, so far, no.

There are, however exceptions:

I have no chance to find out whether the food I buy is GM. If I did, I would not buy it, because I like natural food.

And of course, there are also those who know more about the problem

Yes, I am interested in the problem of genetically modified food. My girlfriend's brother is a Greenpeace activist, and I think it's a shame how little interest the media are showing in the whole matter, how little aware Czechs are of the danger.

Well, the campaign seems to be starting in earnest, if the January 1st deadline is to be met. The word is if, because in order to carry out the appropriate tests, the Czech Republic will need three laboratories, at a cost of 2 million crowns each. And each test will run up a bill of 4,000 crowns. Even so, only random testing will be possible. The law, if passed as it now stands, specifies very strict fines, 3 million crowns, for failing to label a product that contains GM food. Czech food producers aren't worried as far as their own products are concerned, claiming they do not use GM ingredients. But they can't be sure about imports.

And so, it seems, the issue, so widely discussed in some other parts of the world a few years ago, has reached the Czech Republic. The young man I talked to in the store and other activists will welcome it, while others, including many a scientist, say it's much ado about nothing. Many believe that GM food presents no greater threat than the average food grown in the polluted environment we live in.

Author: Olga Szantová
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