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UK allows 0.9% GM

Today a delegation representing 74 organic businesses, with a combined turnover of about £950,000,000 (US$2,000,000,000) are meeting at the House of Commons to express their grave concern at Government proposals to allow up to 0.9% genetcially modified food (GM) in organic food without it being labelled.

Last Autumn, the UK Government completed their consultation on the coexistence between GM crops, non-GM crops and organic crops in England. The Government’s consultation document, drawing on opinions expressed by the European Commission (which are not binding on national governments) presupposes a GM content in all non-GM food, including organic food, of up to 0.9%. The Government says that organic and non-GM food containing up to 0.9% GM would not be labelled, leaving consumers in complete ignorance as to the GM content.

The meeting in the House of Commons, hosted by Peter Ainsworth MP, Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, and Jim Paice MP, Shadow Agriculture Minister, was organised by the Food and Drink Federation’s Organic Group and The Soil Association.

During the consultation, the Government met with a number of biotech corporations, including AstraZeneca, BASF Plant Science, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, Du Pont (UK) Ltd, Monsanto UK Ltd, and Syngenta Ltd. Not one organic business was consulted directly.

The 27 companies attending today’s meeting include: Abel & Cole, Aspalls, Community Foods, Dorset Cereals, Doves Farm, Fresh, Green & Blacks, Grove Fresh, OMSCo, Planet Organic, Rachel’s Dairies, Rainbow Wholefoods, R B Organic, Riverford, Stonegate, Yeo Valley and W Jordan Cereals.

Alex Smith of Alara, Chair of the Food and Drink Federation’s Organic Group said, “There is overwhelming evidence that one of the main reasons that consumers buy organic is to avoid eating food containing any GM. If the proposals set out by the Government were implemented, very significant new economic burdens could be placed on organic food producers, manufacturers and retailers – the Government envisage allowing routine contamination of all non-GM and organic food chains with up to 0.9% GM. Organic businesses will face enhanced risks of GM contamination, product recall and loss of their most valuable asset, the consumer trust that underlies their brand value.”

Peter Melchett, Soil Association Policy Director said: “The Government wants the full cost of keeping organic food as it now is, at the lowest reliable and repeatable level of detection of GM (0.1% GM), to fall on organic businesses, and therefore on organic consumers. So people who eat organic food will end up paying for a GM policy designed to benefit the GM companies. The Government is putting at risk one of the fastest growing areas of the UK economy. Tesco’s organic sales grew by 39% last year. Organic farm shops and box schemes are seeing similar rates of growth. The Soil Association has pledged to keep GM out of organic food, so the public can continue to put their trust in organic food”.

Peter Melchett added: “We warmly welcome the motion tabled in the House of Commons by the Conservative Front Bench, with all-party support, which states that ‘consumers have the right to choose non-GM foods and that all foods containing GM material, or that come from livestock fed on GM, should be clearly labelled as such’, and that 0.1% GM ‘should be the trigger point for GM labelling’. We hope it is not too late for the Government to change their pro-GM stance, which threatens public trust in organic farming and food.”

The 74 companies supporting this initiative have a combined turnover of about £950,000,000. Together they directly employ 8,356 people throughout the United Kingdom. They work with at least 4,790 suppliers, who in turn provide jobs for thousands of people in the UK and abroad.

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