Peter Melchett: When it comes to food, it's better to contact your supermarket than your MP

Last week an apparent setback for the opponents of GM crops was dramatically reversed as the biotech giant Bayer abandoned its plans to grow GM maize in Britain.

In February, in the face of public opposition, the Government had given its approval in principle for GM maize to be grown in the UK - the first crop to receive the green light for commercial planting. It was made clear at the time, however, that the biotech companies would be expected to bear the burden of legal liability for any contamination of non-GM crops. Bayer has now decided that it does not wish to proceed, blaming "regulatory hurdles" imposed by the Government.

Bayer's retreat effectively ends the prospect of any GM crops being grown in the UK in the near future. It is a victory for those who believe that GM food is a potential health and agricultural disaster in the making, and one that UK farmers cannot afford.

So what are the Soil Association's objections to GM? The fact is that no one knows if GM food is safe to eat. Worldwide, there has been only one trial that looked at what happens when humans eat GM food. To their surprise, researchers found that the human gut bacteria could take up GM DNA. This trial, commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2002, has not been followed up.

Although about 100 trials have been done on the commercial value of GM animal feed, only 10 feeding trials that look at the health effects on animals have been done. Of these, the biotechnology companies were connected with five, and none found harmful effects. However, most of the remaining five, done independently, found worrying changes in the gut. None of these has been followed up.

The process used to introduce foreign genes into an organism randomly disrupts its other genes, and the consequences of this on the functioning of the genes are unknown and are a potential risk. While questions on safety remain unanswered, the Soil Association believes that the precautionary principle should be invoked: if there is a potential significant risk, then avoid it.

Organic standards have banned GM from food production since the Nineties, and we remain as opposed to this new food technology as ever. Organic food should offer a safe sanctuary from potential health risks of GM. But we are deeply concerned that growing it commercially will threaten the integrity of organic crops.

The pro-GM lobby insists that GM and organic crops can co-exist, but how do you stop bees or the wind carrying GM pollen, which can fertilise both its organic and non-organic relatives? We know from what has happened in the US and Canada that co-existence is a myth. GM jeopardises not only the environment but also the rights of the vast majority who do not want to eat GM food. Millions will lose the right to choose.

In the case of GM maize, the Soil Association had specific concerns. Used as animal feed, it has been linked to serious and unusual health problems in pigs in the US, and cows in Germany. Bayer's retreat is no cause for complacency, as some non-organic livestock in this country are already being fed imported GM soya and GM maize.

Thanks to consumers voicing their concerns, supermarkets have banned GM ingredients from their own-brand products. But does your milk and butter come from dairy cows fed on a non-GM diet? From this month, GM animal feed must be labelled, so dairy farmers can easily exclude it from their animals' diet. The non-organic consumer cannot so easily choose, because milk from cows fed on GM feed does not have to be labelled as GM. Only a non-GM animal feed policy, from supermarkets and dairies, will ensure milk (and other animal products) is produced without using GM feed.

Marks & Spencer now guarantees that its own-brand milk is non-GM, and the Co-operative Group has pledged to do the same. The other supermarkets will follow suit if enough customers make their wishes known. When it comes to food, contacting your supermarket is more important than writing to your MP.

Last summer's GM public debate, and other numerous polls, have shown that the public does not want GM food. The global market for organic food is £16bn, five times the global market for genetically engineered seed (about £3bn). No one is queuing up to eat GM food; in contrast organic sales are growing. We must not go down the uncertain, unpredictable - and irreversible - road to GM.

The Soil Association is the leading charity working for organic food and farming. We rely on public support to challenge the dominance of industrial agriculture, connected as it is with the degradation of the countryside, increases in diet-related illnesses, mistreatment of animals and betrayal of public trust in food. Help us build an organic and sustainable future. Contact the Soil Association on 0117 914 2444, or visit www.soilassociation.org for more information.

Peter Melchett is policy director of the Soil Association

Suggested Topics
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Extras
indybest

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition