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Politicians told to 'take their fingers out of their ears' on GM concerns

04-Oct-2002

As further trials of genetically modified crops begin in the UK, a survey from the Consumers' Association has shown that consumer confidence in the so-called benefits of GM foods remains low.

The new CA report released earlier this week, entitled 'GM Dilemmas', reveals that consumers believe that the main beneficiaries of the use of GM in food production are the companies that develop the technology, while consumers themselves see little in it for them.

The CA said that one of the most alarming findings of its study - based on a survey of 1,000 people carried out by BRMB - was that despite the fact that less then a third of consumers found the idea of food produced from a GM plant acceptable and 45 per cent try to avoid GM food and ingredients, some 64 per cent of those questioned are still concerned that they could be eating GM ingredients without knowing it.

The survey also showed that less then a third of consumers are in favour of growing GM crops for commercial purposes in the UK at present, and that 57 per cent of consumers have concerns about the use of GM in food production, with the simple fact that we do not know enough about the effects of genetic modification cited as the main cause for concern.

The CA said its report also showed that just 11 per cent of consumers would accept GM animals and 13 per cent GM fish, even though GM fish could soon be on the market in the US.

The CA commissioned the survey because of the UK government's persistence in approving further GM trials, and its recent opposition to the European Commission's plans for a further tightening of GM labels.

Sheila McKechnie, director of the Consumers' Association, said: "Today's findings show that consumers still have concerns about the use of GM and do not yet want GM crops to be grown commercially. The Consumers' Association's findings show that the public believe that it is large corporations, not them, who have most to gain from this technology. The government must take the corporate fingers out of its ears and start listening to what consumers really think about GM.

"Given the level of public concern, there must be a halt to the introduction of any new GM products until the government has carried out the necessary steps to ensure that public safety, consumer opinion and consumer choice are paramount."

The CA has also published a list of guidelines which it claims should be adhered to if the public is to be accurately informed about the pros and cons of GM food. The government is proposing a public debate about the issue of GM crops, but the CA said that this must not turn into "a hollow, public relations exercise" but should be "meaningful, effective and wide-ranging, with results reflected in future government policy, including any decision on whether to grow GM crops commercially".

The Association claims that a ban should be imposed on further GM products coming onto the market and on commercial planting of GM crops in the UK until a number of issues have been addressed. These include a consideration of the consumer concerns highlighted in the CA survey, the introduction of more open, transparent and inclusive regulatory processes, the establishment of mechanisms for monitoring the long-term consequences of GM for human health and the environment, more independent research into the long-term consequences of GM, better mechanisms for picking up unintended effects as a result of the modification and full traceability of GMOs in place in order to track GM developments and have knowledge about where GM ingredients are used.

It also stressed that GM ingredients needed to be properly labelled based on what is used rather than what is detectable in the end product, and added that alternatives to GM products must be available and all labelling rules effectively enforced.

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