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Lobby stifles
GM debate

By Julian Hunt , 02-Jul-2010

Oh dear. The furore surrounding the Food Standards Agency's (FSA's) project on genetic modification (GM) is an unwelcome reminder of how a small group of campaigners remains absolutely determined to derail any sensible debate in the UK about the pros and cons of using new biotechnologies in the food sector.

It has also been pretty unpleasant to see how some newspapers have used this row to further their own anti-science agenda as well as seeking to trash the reputation of the FSA. While it is perfectly legitimate to challenge the Agency on particular issues or decisions and the Food and Drink Federation has on occasion done just that on behalf of members it's completely unacceptable to accuse it of being corrupt and trying to rig this process.

For the record the FSA didn't just decide to launch a public dialogue on food and the use of GM; it was effectively told to do this by the last government. The many issues related to the use (or not) of GM cropped up in debates on food security that raged from 2007 onwards and were highlighted in the Cabinet Office's influential Food Matters report.

In response to Food Matters, it was agreed that the FSA should manage a project that would ensure future government policy in this area was informed by a better understanding of consumer concerns and priorities in respect of GM and food.

Just to ensure that everything was absolutely pucker, the project was established as an arms length initiative managed by a standalone steering group operating with full transparency (just look at its website for proof of that).

Alas, all of this was to no avail. There are clearly those in the worlds of non-governmental organisation activism and journalism who are simply afraid for there to be a genuinely open debate about the issues surrounding GM.

As I write, there are rumours that their efforts to cancel this project may succeed. And that's a real shame. For all of us.

Julian Hunt
isDirector of communications at the
Food and Drink Federation
www.fdf.org.uk

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