Leaked minutes from the UK government show that it is planning to enforce different levels of GM contamination for different organic food if GM crops are grown commercially in the UK, says UK organic body, the Soil Association.
Currently, EU organic law forbids any use of GM products or derivatives in organic food. EU labelling rules forbid any deliberate use of GM in all food, but allow accidental or technically unavoidable GM contamination up to 0.9 per cent.
The rules state that any food containing more than 0.9 per cent 'adventitious' or 'technically unavoidable' (or any deliberate or avoidable) GM ingredients must be labelled as GM. But the Soil Association insists that the lowest level of reliable detection (0.1 per cent) must be used throughout the organic sector.
During a meeting of the cabinet's GM committee last month, the committee said that the 0.1 per cent limit for organic "should not be ruled out". But the organic body reports that the committee also said that different levels of contamination should be allowed for different crops. The leaked minutes state "a lower threshold for organic should not be ruled out immediately, instead the government should consult on its feasibility on a crop-by-crop basis," said the Soil Association in a statement last week.
"This is nonsense. No-one in the food industry will take these proposals seriously. The government seems to be saying that some organic food can have no reliably detectable GM in it, but with other products, almost one in a hundred mouthfuls could be pure GM," said Peter Melchett, the Soil Association's policy director.
According to the Soil Association, Defra, the government department in charge of GM policy, claims that it does not know what the EU legal position is, and that it is still getting legal advice on the precise meaning of 'use', 'adventitious' and 'technically unavoidable' in the EU laws.
However, the GM industry says that commercial growing of GM crops in the UK would make it impossible to avoid GM contamination of organic farming and food. Their answer is to allow up to 0.9 per cent of organic crops and food to be contaminated with genetically modified ingredients.
"The government is clearly desperate to find a way to allow GM companies to contaminate organic crops and food while pretending to safeguard organic food and consumers' right to choose. But to suggest GM contamination levels for organic food that vary depending on what GM companies can get away with is bizarre even by Defra's standards," added Melchett.