Two members of the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency steering group on genetically modified foods (GM foods, or GMOs) recently resigned from the group in protest over language inserted into a report from the agency strengthening the case for the growth of GMO crops and sales of GMOs in the UK.
According to The Observer, emails between members of the Food Standards Agency group and the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, which represents such businesses as Bayer and Monsanto, show the council inserted key sentences strengthening the case for GMOs that ended up in the final report, “Food Standards Agency work on changes in the market and the GM regulatory system.”
Dr. Helen Wallace, director of Genewatch UK, a scientific pressure group opposed to GMOs, left the steering group last month. She told The Observer the emails, “expose how the Food Standards Agency is acting as a puppet of the GM industry by colluding with foreign GM companies to undermine people’s access to GM-free food supplies in Britain.”
Professor Brian Wynne, an expert on public engagement with science and the group’s vice-chairman, resigned from the steering group last week. He expressed concerns that the Food Standards Agency had adopted a pro-GMO attitude.
UK Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has recently come under fire and is being called on to abandon a planned public consultation exercise on GMOs. She formerly was a director at a food and biotechnology lobbying company, Spelman, Cormack and Associates, with her husband, Mark Spelman, and has been quoted saying she is in favor of GMOs “in the right circumstances.”
“The consultation-exercise has lost all credibility,” said Pete Riley, of pressure group GM Freeze. “And it is clear that the Food Standards Agency should not be allowed anywhere near it–they clearly have a pro-GM agenda.
“Mrs. Spelman must take advice from a wider number of experts on GM. The time has come for the government to pull the plug on this discredited public consultation exercise,” he told the Mail Online.
To date, the Food Standards Agency has defended the decision to include changes suggested by the GM lobby in the final report.
A spokesman for Spelman told the Mail Online, “The Secretary of State is clear that all future decisions on GM trials and future policy will be based on science, and will consider the potential benefits, but also the real concern that the public have about GM technology.”
Concerns over GMOs Span the Globe
While the UK is facing its own battle over GMOs, Food Safety News reported yesterday that a group of Haitian farmers has committed to burning 475 tons of hybrid corn and vegetable seeds donated by Monsanto as earthquake relief. And In Zimbabwe, where 2.2 million people need emergency food aid because low seasonal rains resulted in crop failure, GM corn from other countries has been rejected.
“The government’s position on unmilled GM maize has not changed,” Joseph Made, Zimbabwe’s Agriculture Minister, told The National in a recent interview. Made said cross-pollination of GM and organic crops could result in local crop contamination, a concern among Zimbabweans.
“We took a position in 2002 that we will not accept unmilled maize. If we are to get any maize, it has to be milled first before it is distributed. Yes we have a section of our population in need of assistance, but that does not mean that we accept maize that can pose long-term impact on their heath and our farm produce, which has always been organic.”
Sheunesu Mpepereki, a soil science professor at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare, told Reuters, “Just because we are hungry does not make us accept food which we do not like. In any case, I do not think that our hunger is so desperate that we can mortgage the long-term future and purity of our farm produce. Hunger is not permanent.”