4 March 2003
FSA ATTACKED OVER BREAKAWAY GM DEBATE
Wednesday 5th March 2003
Embargoed until Wednesday 12.00am
FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY ATTACKED OVER BREAKAWAY GM DEBATE
Sir John Krebs 'highly prejudiced' on GM food
The Womens' Institutes, Food Commission, UNISON, Soil Association, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, GM Free Cymru, Genetic Food Alert and the National Association of Health Stores have launched a forceful attack on the FSA and its Chair, Sir John Krebs, accusing them of pro-GM bias and of organising a 'breakaway' GM Debate in competition with the independent one initiated by the Government.
Last March an unnamed Government Minister warned that the GM Debate would be "nothing but a carefully orchestrated 'PR offensive'" and said "don't be in any doubt - the decision is already taken.", a view increasingly shared by many organisations and members of the public.
This powerful alliance of organisations, in a letter sent personally to each member of its Board, has accused the FSA of taking a line on GM foods that is virtually indistinguishable from that of the pro-GM lobby. It is also being accused of failing in its duty to properly represent public health and consumer interests.
Further concern has resulted from the FSA's determination to launch its own breakaway 'Public Debate', in direct competition with the official programme of events planned by the independent Public Debate Steering Committee. Whilst the official Public Debate originally received only £250,000 to organise its whole programme (a sum the government recently doubled after objections), the FSA is spending over £100,000 of taxpayers' money on its own breakaway debate. The signatories believe this would undermine the credibility of the FSA and the whole GM Debate. "We don't need more 'spin-doctoring' and 'customer confidence' exercises from Sir John and the FSA, we need public access to GM safety research and an independent debate overseen by people the public trust" said Dr Mike Abrahams, Chair of the National Association of Health Stores.
Finally, in consequence of the FSA's views and policies, the signatories voice strong objections to the FSA being involved in the forthcoming GM Science Review in the capacity of an 'independent scientific advisor'.
In their published minutes, the FSA Board have already expressed concern that the FSA should not to be "drawn into any campaign 'promoting' GM" and have found it necessary to stress that the FSA should not "promote industry interests". However, the letter accuses the FSA of non-cooperation with the GM Public Debate, of failing to acknowledge the concerns of the British Medical Association and other bodies on the issue of GM foods and public health, of publishing highly biased "GM education" material, and of basing its views on GM food safety on disputed science. The signatories ask the FSA Board to withdraw its GM debate materials and to cancel its associated events until they have been fully and impartially evaluated to ensure they truly represent the interests of the consumer.
Commenting on the letter Robert Vint, of Genetic Food Alert, a spokesman for the group, said: "It is now clear that there is very broad-based opposition to the way the FSA is handling GM issues and we hope that Sir John Krebs and his colleagues will come to recognise that they have made an appalling error of judgement in attempting to usurp the legitimate debate process".
Notes & Letter Attached
Page 1 of 3
Press Contact: Robert Vint on 01803-868523
A copy of the letter is attached.
The signatories are: Contact : Telephone:
National Federation of Womens' Institutes
Ben Savill, Head of Public Affairs 020 7371 9300
Kath Dalmeny 020 7837 2250
Guy Collis, Information Officer 020 7551 1752
Lord Melchett 0117 987 4561
Friends of the Earth
Pete Riley 0113 389 9955
Ben Ayliffe 020 7865 8282
GM Free Cymru
Dr Brian John 01239 820 470
National Association of Health Stores (NAHS)
Dr Mike Abrahams, Director 0117 973 1967
Genetic Food Alert (GFA)
Robert Vint, National Coordinator 01803 868523
1. Public consultation on GM crops 'just PR', Christopher Adams and John Mason, Financial Times, July 8 2002
See also: www.foe.co.uk/pubsinfo/infoteam/pressrel/2002/20020709130931.html
2. Blair to head GM Campaign, Andy McSmith, Daily Telegraph, July 9, 2002
Page 2 of 3
National Federation of Womens' Institutes, Food Commission, UNISON, Soil Association, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, GM Free Cymru, Genetic Food Alert, National Association of Health Stores.
4th March 2003
Dear Sir John,
THE FSA AND THE GM PUBLIC DEBATE
We write on behalf of the undersigned organisations to express concern about recent developments relating to the GM Public Debate. We are all currently supporting the work of the GM Public Debate Steering Committee to ensure that a genuinely independent Public Debate about GM food and crops can take place.
The Board of the FSA may be balanced and representative of a wide spectrum of views, however there is a strong consensus amongst consumer and environment organisations that the published views and statements of the FSA and its Chair are indistinguishable from those of the pro-GM lobby and do not properly represent public health and consumer interests. This is evident in the FSA's refusal to acknowledge the Precautionary Principle; in its failure to acknowledge the concerns of the British Medical Association; in its insistence that genetic modification is merely an extension of conventional breeding; in its endorsement of the discredited concept of 'substantial equivalence'; and in its willingness to rely on unpublished or confidential corporate data that is neither independent, nor peer-reviewed nor available to the public. Many of these problems are illustrated in the FSA's booklet 'GM Food - opening up the debate'.
We note with approval the FSA Board's stated policy not to be "drawn into any campaign 'promoting' GM". The Board's minutes also state that "Board members noted that the Agency's contribution to the Government GM debate had to be handled impartially. The Agency had no role to promote industry interests, but its priority was consumer choice and public safety."
Our concern is that, despite the Board's intentions, the FSA's actual involvement with the Public Debate and with the GM Science Review, far from being neutral and impartial, is widely seen as highly prejudiced towards the GM industry's position. This obvious bias will greatly undermine the credibility of the FSA, the GM debate process and the image of the Government. The media have already reported that the debate will be 'rigged' and the current activities of the FSA are greatly reinforcing this perception.
We are, therefore, especially concerned that the FSA has chosen not to participate in the widely supported debate process under the supervision of the Public Debate Steering Committee, but has instead launched its own breakaway debate. This initiative was not discussed with the Public Debate Steering Committee. We question the legitimacy of this decision.
We therefore ask you to call a halt to the FSA's Debate events until they have been fully evaluated and approved by the Public Debate Steering Committee and until they can play a publicly acceptable role within the recognised GM Debate. We also believe the FSA's role as 'independent advisor' to the GM Science Review is untenable and should be terminated.
Yours sincerely,Helen Carey, National Chairman, National Federation of Womens' Institutes 020 7371 9300 (Ben Saville)
Dr Tim Lobstein, Director, The Food Commission
020 7837 2250
Dave Prentice, General Secretary, UNISON
020 7551 1752 (Guy Collis)
Lord Melchett, Policy Director, Soil Association 0117 987 4561
Pete Riley, Senior Food & Farming Campaigner, Friends of the Earth 0113 389 9955
Stephen Tindale, Executive Director, Greenpeace
020 7865 8282 (Ben Ayliffe)
Dr Brian John, GM Free Cymru
01239 820 470
Dr Mike Abrahams, Director, National Association of Health Stores 0117 973 1967
Robert Vint, National Coordinator, Genetic Food Alert 01803 868 523