Genetically modified (GM) crop production was rapidly becoming “a dead issue” as a way of feeding the planet, according to Peter Melchett, policy director of organics charity the Soil Association.
Speaking to Food Manufacture at the Soil Association’s annual conference at the Custard Factory in Birmingham last week, Melchett said: “GM is more of a dead issue. Scotland is completely GM free and the same with Wales. France and Germany have moved strongly against it.”
Melchett also cited US consumers’ negative reaction to milk that had been labelled as having GM content after dairy herds had been treated with a GM hormone in 2008. He claimed this was evidence of growing opposition, even in the US, which has traditionally been a GM stronghold.
Melchett championed genetic methods such as ‘marker-assisted breeding’, which uses natural breeding based on a study of the role of particular genes. He said this was an acceptable alternative to the use of more advanced methods, the long-term effects of which were uncertain. “It is delivering better results quicker and is much safer and more predictable.”
In the light of these issues, Melchett turned the usual comparison of organic and GM food on its head, calling GM technology “very hit and miss” and “old-fashioned”
Increasing sales of organic food
The Organic Trade Board is driving a three-year promotional campaign from October 2010 to October 2013 aimed at increasing sales of organic food each year by 15%. It aims to boost organic food sales by £1bn by 2015.
The organisation released results of a survey of 3,000 consumers conducted by Mintel last week. The survey found the top three reasons for buying organic food were: its natural and unprocessed nature (40%); restricted pesticide use (34%); and better taste (30%).
The survey indicated that 83% of Britons bought organic food and that only 7% of shoppers saw organic food as ‘smarter/posher’
Finn Cottle, trade consultant at the Soil Association, said the data showed that consumers were becoming more savvy about the principles behind organic food production.
Kantar Worldpanel figures for the 12 weeks to December 31 2009 indicated that overall organics sales were still falling 9.7%, although the decline was lessening. However, some areas - such as milk and babyfood - were still showing strong growth.