Cablegate: Biotech Speaker in Turkey

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Biotech Speaker in Turkey

Sensitive but Unclassified. Not for Internet

1. (SBU) Summary. Most Turks, including government
officials, journalists and academics, continue to
express concern with transgenic crops and food. Despite
the available scientific evidence, most people continue
to believe that food products made from transgenic crops
are unsafe and should withheld from the market in order
to determine the health risks associated with this
technology, despite the fact that most supposed risks
have been dismissed in the past 10 years. The
possibility of EU membership and a lack of understanding
of the situation in the European Union also add to the
public perception of biotechnology. In an attempt to
balance the debate, particularly in the press as well as
addressing public concerns, post arranged for Dr. Bruce
Chassy, a food microbiologist from Illinois University
in Champagne, to visit Turkey. End Summary.

State of Play

2. (SBU) Turkey is a signatory of the Biosafety
Protocol and is currently developing regulations to
govern the introduction of transgenic crops. At the
same time, Turkey imports large amounts of bulk
commodities, with the United States supplying over $600
million of corn, soybeans, soybean meal, vegetable oil
and cotton in 2004. Most of these commodities are
either transgenic crops or produced from transgenic
crops. Biotechnology is a concept that is not well
understood in Turkey. Unfounded food scares related to
the alleged use of hormones in tomatoes and carrots (yes
hormones in tomatoes and carrots!) have heightened
consumer concern in Turkey over food safety and exposed
a complete lack of confidence in Turkish regulators.
The government's failure to respond quickly and
decisively to these issues has only vindicated alarmists
intent on influencing public opinion regarding

Just the Facts

3. (SBU) In order to respond to public concerns and
balance the mostly negative press, post arranged
speaking engagements in four Turkish cities hoping to
reach academics, government officials, students and
business representatives. Dr. Chassy focused primarily
on the development of transgenic crops compared with
traditional plant breeding while also emphasizing the
regulatory framework, the economic and environmental
benefits and misconceptions about the technology. In
addition, Dr. Chassy provided information on the
development and use of the technology in developing
countries such as China, India and Iran as well the
health, economic and environmental benefits of
transgenic crops.

Audience Response

4. (SBU) The audience response in each of the venues
was similar. The majority of those attending the events
who had scientific backgrounds seemed to understand the
science and supported the technology. Others,
particularly social scientists and economists, remained
skeptical, insisting at times that Dr. Chassy was hiding
information about the dangers associated with transgenic
crops and, in particular, the food produced from these
crops. Among the most frequent misconceptions mentioned
during the visit were:

--The head of the Union of Turkish Agricultural
Engineers claimed (apparently on television) that
transgenic crops and food had lead to higher incidents
of birth defects in the United States.

--GMOs have lead to higher incidents of cancer and food
allergies in the United States.

--the United States was sending transgenic products to
developing countries to test them on poor populations
before using them in the United States.
--that the United States prohibited any GMOs in baby

--that the European prohibited all imports and planting
of transgenic crops and food;

--somehow global warming and GMOs should be included in
the same debate.

--denial that the amount of arable land is in decline
and that world food production will have to increase to
meet world population growth;

--------------------------------------------- -----------
Typical Reaction: Don't understand it, but absolutely
against it
--------------------------------------------- -----------

5. (SBU) Typical of the reaction by officials were the
opening remarks at Sabanci University by a visiting
Canadian professor who while acknowledging her lack of
information or understanding of the subject nevertheless
stated that she was against the technology because
Mother Nature has done a good job on her own. We would
note that despite her lack of understanding she decided
not to attend 90% of the conference.

6. (SBU) During the visit, we met with a number of
Turkish officials in responsible positions who had a
role in approving this new technology. Despite
acknowledging little understanding of the issue they
nevertheless expressed a willingness to comment
negatively on proposed legislation and express their
opposition to the technology for extremely spurious

Potential for Agriculture Production

7. (SBU) However, several arguments did seem to
resonate with some officials. The development of
transgenic cotton in both China and India that require
less fertilizer and pesticides drew signs of approval
from the audience. Turkey has significant problems with
cotton production and witnessing the advances in
production in two these countries seemed to bear fruit.
The second issue was the evidence that the European
Union both imports and grows transgenic crops, albeit
only a small amount for agricultural products. Still,
Turks seem to view Europe as their only viable market
and believe strongly that, given European concerns,
Turkey should not accept transgenic crops. The Coca
Cola, for example, demands gmo-free isoglucose for soft
drink production despite the fact that the EU does not
require the same.

Comment: Science versus Ideology

8. (SBU) It would appear that the issue of transgenic
crops and food derived from these commodities has turned
into a debate between science and ideology in Turkey.
While the scientific evidence continues to mount on the
benefits (health, economic, environmental) of this
technology and its application in greater numbers of
countries, Turks seem more inclined to rely on urban
myths and ideology to frame the debate. At the same
time, while questioning advocates of the technology,
there is little or no questioning of those opposed to
the technology. While the public might be forgiven for
their lack of understanding, Turkish officials directly
involved in discussing and legislating the future of the
technology show little desire to understand it.


© Scoop Media

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