The UK's Food Standards Agency’s Board has been considering the potential benefits of GM foods.
According to the FSA, "Letters were written to a number of biotechnology companies and the responses received and a summary were presented to the Board." Subsequently, the FSA decided it better also explore the view of NGOs on the potential benefits of GM foods.
At an open board meeting today (9 May) : http://www.foodstandards.gov.uk/events/agenda010509.htm
The following paper will be presented: "Benefits to Consumers Provided by GM Foods - A View from NGOs" [available as a pdf]
It must make disappointing reading for Krebs, the FSA's Chairman, given his avidly pro-GM agenda:
"More often NGOs are questioning issues such as approval procedures, safety assessment mechanisms and environmental, health, economical and ethical implications of the technology."
Happily, these questions are side-stepped by the FSA on the grounds that the FSA already declared existing GM foods safe - a position Krebs open-mindedly adopted from day 1 of his tenure at the FSA.
But despite limiting the focus purely to benefits, the conclusion can still not be avoided that in the view of organisations outside of the biotechnology industry, the benefits from GM foods fall somewhere between highly dubious and zero.
So what are the odds that Krebs now suggests the views are sought of his fellow Fellows of the Royal Society, then claims 2 out of 3 aren't bad! For more on Krebs and the Food Spin Agency see: http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/pants1.htm
BENEFITS TO CONSUMERS PROVIDED BY GM FOODS - A VIEW FROM NGOs
9 MAY 2001
1. This paper informs the Board of views expressed by Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) in respect of GM foods, as part of the Board’s consideration of potential benefits of GM foods.
2. The Board began its consideration of the Agency’s policy on GM foods at the open Board meeting in June 2000. During the course of discussions the Board asked for information regarding present and future benefits of GM foods. Letters were written to a number of biotechnology companies and the responses received and a summary were presented to the Board as an information paper at its October 2000 meeting. The Board subsequently requested an information paper that brought together the views expressed by NGOs on GM foods.
3. The Board is asked to note the information. Novel Foods Division Contact: Nick Tomlinson Tel: 020 7276 8562 (GTN 276 8562) Clair Baynton Tel: 020 7276 8566 (GTN 276 8566)
PAPER NOTE 01/03/02 9 MAY 2001
BENEFITS TO CONSUMERS PROVIDED BY GM FOODS - A VIEW FROM NGOs
4. To inform the Board of views expressed by NGOs in respect of GM foods, as part of the Board’s consideration of potential benefits of GM foods.
5. The Board began its consideration of the Agency’s policy on GM foods at the open Board meeting in June 2000. During the course of discussions the Board asked for information regarding present and future benefits of GM foods. Letters were written to a number of biotechnology companies and the responses received and a summary were presented to the Board as an information paper at its October 2000 meeting. The Board subsequently requested an information paper that brought together the views expressed by NGOs on GM foods.
Views of organisations outside of biotechnology industry
6. In general, since many non-industry NGOs are actively campaigning against GM foods, little if any information is presented on potential benefits. More often NGOs are questioning issues such as approval procedures, safety assessment mechanisms and environmental, health, economical and ethical implications of the technology. Since the Board has already discussed the safety of GM foods this paper is restricted to views on potential benefits. The most comprehensive document in this respect is the paper produced by the Food Commission and Genewatch which has already been seen by the Board
7. Biotechnology companies report that future benefits of GM foods will include plants with altered composition particularly vitamin, mineral, antioxidant, protein and desirable fatty acid content. They are also using genetic modification to reduce allergenic proteins in some foods, to develop plants to deliver vaccines or pharmaceutical products and produce purer and cheaper enzymes for use in food processes.
8. Many NGOs question whether the future benefits described by the biotechnology companies will directly benefit the consumer or whether developments are primarily intended to benefit food processors and producers or other industrial users, the impact of the technology on developing countries is also questioned. It is felt that time scales for such products to reach the consumer tend to be underestimated by the industry and is acknowledged that consumers have different views on the use of GM technology with respect to its use in medical applications. Specific examples, which fall into broad categories are highlighted below.
9. Regarding changes in composition some NGOs feel that the modification of starch content in potatoes is aimed primarily at producing alternative sources of specialist starches for industry rather than clear consumer benefits such as a lower fat content in potato crisps. Many NGOs consider that many of the foods under development are still at a very early stage and foods such as those with altered nutritional profiles for example altered oil profiles, which have been promised by the biotechnology companies have yet to be approved in Europe. Some NGOs have expressed concern about the socio-economic impact of products such as oil from varieties of oilseed rape modified to produce high levels of lauric acid as an alternative to palm oil which might have negative impact on the economies of tropical oil producing countries. Modifying protein composition and attempts to remove allergens from food it is suggested, have so far had limited success.
10. In the process of enhancing levels of certain nutritional elements, for example vitamin content, NGOs have expressed concern that levels of other nutritional components may inadvertently be altered. They believe that such a situation may arise in the production pathway of the vitamin in question with the crop having to compensate for increased vitamin production by reducing levels of other related components. NGOs have called for the development of new techniques capable of detecting such changes. These are being explored in the Agency’s current research programme.
11. Regarding the use of GM crops to produce pharmaceutical products NGOs stress that traceability of such plants is vital to ensure these products do not inadvertently enter the food chain.
12. There is also concern amongst NGOs that the genetic modification of food crops is under the control of large multi-national biotechnology companies. This may in part be a reflection of the high costs associated with developing GM products and meeting all the necessary requirements of the safety assessment procedure, which effectively prices smaller companies out of the market. However, not all GM crops are being developed by multi-nationals; some work is being carried out by research institutes.
13. Claims that GM crops will help feed the world by increasing yield are also felt by many NGOs to be untrue since in their view there is sufficient food already available ; it just needs to be distributed more equitably. In addition it is suggested that most GM crops being developed are designed and destined for rich countries.
14. With respect to the development of drought and salt tolerant GM plants, which may potentially benefit developing countries, it is felt that more information is required on these developments and how in reality they will be of benefit. If there are benefits, then such crops should be made available to those countries who want them. It is also highlighted that more GM crop research needs to be directed towards the production of staple food crops together with the implementation of international safeguards.
15. The Annex contains papers and articles used in the preparation of this note. Board Action Required
16. The Board is asked to note the above information.