Food manufacturers on tenterhooks as government cancels FSA GM dialogue project

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gm crops, European commission, Food standards agency, Gm

Farmers and food processors are waiting to hear what position the coalition will adopt on genetically modified (GM) foods, following its announcement that the public dialogue project on the subject was to be cancelled.

Last month ministers called on the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which was co-ordinating the project at the request of the previous Labour government, to discontinue work while details of its GM policy were thrashed out.

GM enthusiasts, such as the National Farmers' Union and Food and Drink Federation, fear this could be a sign of a change in policy from the former administration, which was known to be in favour of introducing GM crops in the UK as part of an armoury of technologies to ensure future food supplies.

Dr Helen Ferrier, the NFU's chief science and regulatory affairs adviser, said: "We have statements from various ministers about the need for a science-based policy, which is good and hard for anyone to argue against."

However, she expressed concerns that "in opposition, the conservatives were much more concerned with consumer worries who knows what their views are now?"

The NFU is concerned about the European Commission's (EC) proposals to devolve decisions on the use of GM crops to Member States (MS). "The current big issue is the EC guidelines on ways in which MS can ban or restrict GM cultivation in their country," said Ferrier. "So we are looking at that very carefully and pointing out the aspects we don't think are appropriate given the legislation's [positive] safety assessment."

Industry leaders recently called for a renewed debate on GM. Melanie Leech, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, told a recent debate: "We need to explore the role of potentially new technologies in a neutral and unbiased way so that people can make up their own mind about these things and explore whether or not they have a role to play."

A few days later in a BBC Radio 4 interview, former Labour science minister, Lord David Sainsbury, also called for a renewed debate.

While Ferrier detected "more pragmatism and less sensationalism" in GM reporting, she warned against "a rerun of a formal public debate because, in reality, it has gone past that because of the amount of product that is in our supply chain already".

"As time moves on and [GM products] become established as part of food production, the kind of interest in them decreases because nothing [bad] happens."

Related topics: Supply Chain

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