The UK risks becoming a “food museum” if it fails to adopt new technologies such as genetically modified (GM) foods, the president of Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has warned.
Speaking at a conference yesterday (November 13) in London organised by the agri-food consultancy European Food and Farming Partnerships (EFFP), Jim Moseley, who is also md of General Mills UK and Ireland, called on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to take the lead in proving to the public that consumption of GM food posed no threat to health.
Moseley stressed speed of action was essential in ensuring that the UK didn’t fall behind the rest of the world in the adoption of modern production techniques and, as a consequence, lost its all-important export markets.
“Despite its great heritage around food manufacturing in the UK and Europe, we could become a food museum as all the markets around us adopt this and other new technologies,” he warned.
However, he argued that it was not the role of manufacturers to promote the use of GM technology. “It is unlikely that manufacturers will put their heads above the parapet on GM,” said Moseley.
Despite widespread use of GM around the world and no evidence that it poses any health risk, anti-GM campaigners, such as the Soil Association, which represents the interests of organic producers, have continually questioned the safety of GM.
“First and foremost we have got to prove that this technology is safe and in my opinion the FSA is the first port of call in that debate,” said Moseley. “From a manufacturing point of view and from a FDF point of view, we will be encouraging the FSA to start an evidence-based debate around the safety of this particular technology.”
BBC’s Food Programme
In a panel session at the EFFP conference titled ‘More with less – driving performance, sustainably’, radio presenter Sheila Dillon from the BBC’s Food Programme, supported Moseley’s call for further research into GM safety, with the FSA taking the lead. She said: “There is virtually no evidence that these technologies are safe.”
In the US it is not necessary to label foods as GM, unlike in the EU, and Dillon argued that recent unsuccessful moves in California to introduce GM labelling in the US showed that “the safety data is lacking”.
However, National Farmers Union President Peter Kendall strongly refuted arguments by those who claimed GM was not safe and not an effective tool in improving agricultural efficiency.
While he supported the call for the FSA to take the lead making the case for GM, unlike Moseley, he felt it was important that all stakeholders in the in the food sector – including farmers and manufacturers – stepped up their game in arguing the case for GM and convinced the UK public of its safety. “Yes, the FSA does have to lead on this, but we have all got to get out there,” he said.
Iglo Group ceo Martin Glenn said that, while some sections of the population would always avoid GM foods as a “lifestyle choice”, demand for technologies such as GM would grow as pressure increased on farmers to become more efficient to feed the growing world population, while minimising their environmental impact.