DUBLIN, Ireland - Genetic Concern, the group campaigning against the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the food chain in Ireland, has published the first survey of public attitudes on the issue in this country.

The group's interpretation of the data differs from that of Lansdowne Market Research, the independent market research company it commissioned to conduct the survey.

"Genetic Concern believes that the findings of this survey show that the majority of consumers do not want genetically engineered foods," the group said in a statement accompanying the data.

"I don't agree with that," Roger Jupp, managing director of Dublin-based Lansdowne, told BioWorld International. According to Jupp, the main conclusion to be drawn from the data is that genetic engineering is one of a number of food-safety issues about which the Irish public is concerned. "Relatively speaking, however, genetic engineering per se does not come top of the list," he said.

Survey participants put bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad-cow disease) and Salmonella as their main concerns, he said.

Genetic Concern spokesman Quentin Gargan said 59 percent of the 1,397 people who participated in the survey said they were either concerned or fairly concerned about the use of genetic engineering in food.

The data show a high level of ignorance about genetic engineering.

Seventy-eight percent of the total sample said they knew little or nothing about the technology. Of those who responded, however, 89 percent said they wanted clear labeling of genetically modified foodstuffs.

Genetic Concern said it was significant that the vast majority (88 percent) of those who said they knew a lot about the topic also expressed the most concern. Industry has long linked opposition to the technology to ignorance of it.

Which Came First - Concern Or Fact-Seeking?

St. Louis-based Monsanto Co.'s business-development manager in Ireland attributed the finding to media bias about the issue. "On the face of it, [the survey] looks like it contradicts what we say," he allowed. "I personally don't think [the issue is] being covered in a balanced way."

Jupp said this point can be argued both ways: the more-concerned sector may have been motivated by its need to find out more about the issue. "It's the chicken-and-egg syndrome," he said.

O'Reilly said Monsanto is having difficulties communicating its message in Ireland. The company has eschewed a high-profile advertising campaign here, an approach that backfired in the U.K. last year. Instead, it is attempting to build support for the technology by participating in public debates and by distributing information packets to schools. The company will conduct its own public attitude survey very shortly.