REPORT OF PUBLIC FORUM ON SAFETY OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD
This paper gives a brief report on the first public forum on genetically modified (GM) food organized by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD).
FORMAT OF FORUM
2. The theme of the forum is on safety of GM food. The forum was held at the Lecture Hall, Hong Kong Science Museum on 31 March 2000. It was divided into two parts: the first part - presentations given by speakers; and the second part - plenary discussions (detailed programme run-down is at Appendix I). The forum was conducted in Cantonese with English simultaneous interpretation and lasted around three and half hours.
3. Five speakers presented their views on safety of GM food. They were representatives of the Hong Kong Medical Association, the Greenpeace, the local academia and the Administration. Some 260 audience, who filled up over 90% of the Lecture Hall, attended the forum. They came from various sectors including the medical profession, the academia, the food trade, the environmental groups, the consumer groups, the District Councils, local consulates and the general public.
4. Details of all views expressed at the forum has been recorded in the transcript and uploaded onto the Internet (http://info.gov.hk/fehd/safefood/gmf/index1c.html). The following is a brief summary of the views expressed by the speakers and the audience.
Views of Speakers as Expressed during Presentation and Plenary Discussion
5. Prof. SSM SUN and Prof. RSC WONG, two academia from the local institutes, asserted that GM food was just as safe as its conventional counterparts and genetic modification could bring benefits to the humanity by increasing crop yields, enhancing nutritional value, reducing use of pesticides, etc.
6. Dr. WL LO, representative from the Hong Kong Medical Association, reckoned that current medical evidence did not show GM food having any immediate adverse health effect. Nevertheless, he was concerned about the possibility of accidental introduction of allergen to food by GM technology and the potential long-term health effect of GM food.
7. Mr. SP LO, representative of the Greenpeace, expressed great concern over the potential threats of GM technology to the environment, such as development of super weeds or super pests, damage to biodiversity, disturbance to ecosystem, etc. As a result, he proposed a total ban on GM food.
8. Dr. YY HO, representative of FEHD, discussed the safety assessment and possible regulatory measures for GM food.
Views of Audience as Expressed in Plenary Discussion
9. Most audience shared the view that GM food currently available on the market was safe for human consumption. They expressed that public education and public discussion were effective means for enhancing the community's understanding on the subject of GM food safety.
10. Some members of the audience expressed their concern over the environmental impact of GM food. Some audience suggested that considerations should be given to factors such as social acceptance of risks, in addition to food safety, when devising the regulation framework for GM food.
10. A questionnaire was distributed at the end of the forum to collect participants' views on GM food safety and the forum's programme arrangement (a sample questionnaire is at Appendix II).
11. Out of the 250 questionnaires distributed, 55 were collected representing a response rate of 22%. In view of the low response rate, the findings of the survey should not be considered conclusive. An analysis of the response collected is at Appendix III.
12. We managed to have a reasonably balanced discussion with scientists supporting the modern biotechnology in principle, medical practitioners raising health concerns and representatives from green groups expressing their concern over environmental impact of GM technology. In general, we consider the forum reasonably effective in achieving its objective of providing an opportunity for various stakeholders to exchange their views on the issue of GM food safety.
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department