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Organic lobby continues to slam GM for being food safety risk

By Rick Pendrous , 03-Sep-2007

Soil Association (SA) director Patrick Holden has once again dismissed the use of genetic modification (GM), claiming that it posed a ”food safety” risk.

His comments come as scientists in the field of sustainable development are increasingly predicting a looming global food crisis because of climate change.

Holden argued for a move away from “industrialised” food production to avert disaster. He was speaking last Friday on BBC 4’s Today radio programme, on the same day as the SA launched its latest market report showing organic sales had hit £2bn - up 22% over last year.

Despite many scientists arguing that GM offered a way of averting future food shortages and not representing a threat to human health, Holden claimed it did pose a food safety threat. “It’s too risky: there are food safety issues and environmental problems,” he claimed.

Last June EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson said Europe risked being left behind in the agro-biotechnology stakes because it was unable to engage in a rational debate about GM. Speaking at the European Biotechnology open day in Brussels, Mandelson said the GM debate had become “impossibly polarised”

Mandelson also claimed that Member States were creating barriers to trade by banning GM crops that had been pronounced safe by the European Food Safety Authority. “If politicians and risk managers undermine their own system it becomes almost impossible,” he said. “We devalue objective science as our most important benchmark - and that is a dangerous step to take.”

He added that it was neither “responsible nor defensible” to dismiss the role of GM crops in meeting the demands of developing nations through increased yields or improving the nutrient quality of crops. “World food demand will double by 2050,” he said. “To meet this demand in a sustainable way, we will have to increase productivity in agriculture. GM can help developing countries produce crops designed to address their needs.”

However, SA director of food and farming Helen Browning said: “While this year’s report confirms a positive future for organic food and farming, the organic movement faces challenges in the long-term from climate change and rising oil prices, as do all farmers and growers.”

The SA’s organic market report claimed an average of £37M was spent each week on organic produce in the UK. It was launched to coincide with the SA’s Organic Fortnight 2007.

Browning added: “Rises in feed and fuel prices will need to be reflected in food prices at the check-out that enable farmers to get a fair return on their production costs.”

The grocery think tank IGD has predicted that spending on organic products would soar another 50% overt the next five years, reaching £3bn by 2012.