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Embarrassing consumer backlash for government against GM food

NOTE: The claim made below about no discernible differences from GM feed is scientifically incorrect. There are plenty of studies that show that GM crops do have an impact on the animals they are fed to, and that GM material can even appear in the resulting animal products.

TAKE ACTION over GM animal feed:
Two in three shoppers demand GM product labels in embarrassing consumer backlash for government against "Frankenstein foods"
Sean Poulter
Daily Mail, 9 January 2013

Two in three shoppers are demanding that meat, milk, and eggs from farm animals fed a GM diet should be labelled, according to an official study.

The results make clear that families feel that clear labelling is the only way they can choose whether they want to support controversial "Frankenstein Food" farming or not.

The research findings, published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), are a major embarrassment for the government.

The new food and farming secretary, Owen Paterson, is in the middle of a major public relations exercise designed to convince families to support GM farming and food.

He recently dismissed consumer concerns as "humbug" and "complete nonsense" while boasting that much of the nation’s meat comes from animals fed on genetically modified grain imported from overseas.

The minister suggested the public were perfectly happy to accept this and that the UK should now open the door to a wider take-up of GM farming and food.

However, the new official research carried out by the Government’s own agency makes clear that most consumers had no idea that British farm animals are being reared on a GM diet.

After they were told, the vast majority – 67 per cent - said packs of meat, milk, and eggs should be labelled to spell this out on the label.

The result puts pressure on Mr Paterson to either accept or reject the view of the vast majority of consumers.

The Government has been the chief cheerleader in Europe for the adoption of GM farming and food. Ministers have recently agreed new cash support for GM research alongside Mr Paterson’s PR initiative to win over sceptical shoppers.

Separately, Mr Paterson’s department is pressing the European Commission to slim down its GM regulatory regime to make it easier and quicker for biotech companies to get permission to begin commercial growing.

GM advocates insist that opponents are in some way anti-science and ignorant. It is argued that if they are educated about GM techniques that any objections will fall away.

In fact, past studies funded by the Government have revealed that the more consumers learn about the technology the more sceptical they become.

At the same time, large farm scale trials conducted in the UK demonstrated that the industrial farming techniques associated with GM production were harmful in terms of wild plants, insects and farmland birds.

The latest FSA research project looked specifically at attitudes to labelling and found putting GM information on pack is seen as important "in order to give consumers the right to choose".

The research team found that most people had absolutely no idea that pigs, young beef cattle, and chickens on British farms are    given a GM diet.

They concluded: "Once made aware of its use in UK food products, participants typically considered that foods containing animal products derived from GM feed should be labelled."

They added: "Two-thirds of respondents considered it very or quite important that it is written on a label if the food itself or ingredients in the food are from a genetically modified plant or the food product is from animals that have been fed genetically modified plants."

Currently, the only major national food chain to keep GM out of the diet of the animals on its farms is Marks & Spencer. They are also banned by organic farmers.

The Soil Association has long campaigned for food products derived from animals given a GM diet to carry labels to provide better information to consumers. Some stores in Europe label food from animals that are not raised on a GM diet.

Its policy director, Peter Melchett, said: "These research findings are a major blow to Owen Paterson’s GM policy. The FSA figures show a large majority of consumers believe GM food labelling is important."

The FSA indicated that it would not support the public’s call for more comprehensive GM labelling, arguing it was unnecessary and would be too difficult.

"This was simply a fact-finding exercise for us to feed into the discussion," said a spokesman.

"There is no discernible difference between food produced from animals fed GM feed and those fed non-GM feed."

Defra runs national GM policy, however it said it had no responsibility for GM labelling and would not comment on the issue.

It said: "The world’s population is growing which means people will need more food and there will be a greater demand for water, energy, and land.

"GM is one of the tools in the box that could help us tackle these challenges.

"But our top priority is safeguarding human health and the environment so any decisions on GM would have to be based on rigorous scientific evidence."

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