The government has committed to an industry-wide debate about genetically modified (GM) foods.
The proposal comes in a major new study of the UK’s food system, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs today (July 10).
The first report from the so-called ‘Green Food Project’ provides an outline of how the food system needs to change in order to keep food affordable while considering the natural environment.
As well as work on the adoption of new and novel technologies, such as GM, there were commitments to focus on food waste, encourage knowledge exchange within the industry and ensure the sector retains and attracts talent.
Food and farming minister Jim Paice said: “With our increasingly hungry world, every country must play its part to produce more food and improve the environment.
“Whether it means embracing new farming technology or people wasting less, we’ve got to become more sustainable.”
Support for GM
Paice has shown support for GM in the past, but the move to “manage a debate” between farming, food retail and manufacturing sectors, as well as environmental and consumer organisations, will be welcomed by those who support the controversial technology. Its supporters suggest ingredient prices will rise if technology is not adopted.
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) welcomed the idea of a “proper, grown-up, evidence-based conversation”. But Andrew Kuyk, the FDF director of sustainability, was quick to point out that GM was only one of the technologies being considered.
Discussions are expected to be led by an independent leadership council.
Kuyk, who led one of the subgroups that fed into this, the first report from the Green Food Project, welcomed the direction of change proposed. He also highlighted how important collaboration from all quarters has been in the early stages of the process.
However, he warned that this was the first step and there were complex issues to deal with. This included the concept of sustainable diets.
The report recommends the formation of a ‘consumption forum’, which will begin to discuss the issues of changing diets and the role the food industry has in influencing sustainable consumption patterns.
The environmental impact of livestock production has been well-documented in recent years with environmentalists, among others, calling for a reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy products.
Mark Driscoll, WWF-UK’s food lead, warned that the new forum “has to be more than a talking shop”.
The reformulation of products, including the substitution of ingredients with high environmental impacts, such as meat and rice, were considered as viable options by some of the sub-groups feeding into the project.
However, Paice insisted there would be no “Soviet-style targets”.
For more on how rejecting GM could boost food ingredient prices, click here .
To read how climate change may cut food choice and boost the production of meat in laboratories, click here .
What they say about the report
- "What’s clear is that a focus on food production alone isn’t enough. What we’re eating, how much we waste, how we feed people fairly and treat animals humanely all need to be part of the picture. Business as usual – even with a green tinge – is not the answer. Sue Dibb, the Food Ethics Council’s executive director.
- “This has been a genuinely collaborative project addressing fundamental questions about the future direction of the UK’s food system. We have not come up with all the answers, but we have set a clear course for what needs to happen and shown that it is only by working together that we can reduce the risks and maximise the benefits of what we are able to produce, now and in the future, to help deliver safe, secure, affordable and nutritious food supplies for generations to come.”Andrew Kuyk, FDF’s director of sustainability and steering Group member.
- “We support the collaborative approach taken by the Green Food Project as a - very small - first step. However, what’s really important is the need to take action so we move towards a more equitable and sustainable food system which addresses the twin global challenges of sustainability and hunger." Mark Driscoll, head of WWF-UK’s food programme.