Food watchdog 'hid' fears over GM

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The Independent Online

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has been accused of suppressing public fears about the safety of GM foods.

In a damaging attack on the agency's credibility, leading consumer groups claim that the FSA deliberately "hid" a series of criticisms about the potential risks of GM crops that were made by its own "citizens' jury".

In a memo to the FSA earlier this month, the committee claimed the agency had "ignored existing concerns about GM food" on its website and in a glossy booklet.

The FSA claimed that nine of the 15 members of the jury had backed GM foods.But the jury had also unanimously criticised the Government's decision to end its trials of GM crops - a verdict that was ignored in FSA statements.

They also criticised the quality of safety data available to the public and raised ethical concerns.The jury said: "More time is needed to understand the long-term environmental implications of GM crops before farmers start to grow them in the UK."

That verdict comes at a critical time. A Government-run "national debate" on the commercial planting of GM crops is due to start next month as part of a concerted campaign to counter deep-rooted public suspicion about GM foods.

The FSA claims the press release on the jury's verdict was agreed with the jury. A spokeswoman for the FSA said: "We're neither pro- nor anti-GM foods. We're pro-consumer choice."

But the FSA's conduct has sparked protests from Sheila McKechnie, head of the Consumers Association, and Dr Sue Mayer, of the pressure group Genewatch. Both organisations have formally complained to the FSA.

Dr Mayer said: "I was shocked that they didn't reveal these results more prominently. I don't think they're acting impartially, and the FSA is driving government policy on GM foods."

Susan Davies, the Consumer Association's principal policy adviser, said their research showed the public was far more sceptical than the FSA admitted. She added: "We've been disappointed by the way they've handled GM issues. They're putting their credibility at risk because they're coming across as biased, and not putting consumer's concerns across properly."

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