Chefs in a stew over modified foods

MANY OF Britain's leading chefs have agreed to banish genetically modified food from their kitchens and press the Government for a five- year moratorium on such foods being sold in shops.

Nico Ladenis and Raymond Blanc are among the 19 chefs who have agreed to back a Friends of the Earth campaign to halt the sale of genetically engineered food until more is known about its impact on health and the environment.

Pete Riley, a campaigner at FoE, said the people who cared most about food were nearly unanimous in their disapproval of scientific tinkering.

Shaun Hill, the chef and proprietor of the Merchant House restaurant in Ludlow, Shropshire, said: "It is the same sets of voices who gave us battery chickens in the name of cheap food that are now pushing genetic engineering. I'm very suspicious of their motives.

"There are just too many question marks hanging over this new technology. It is about time the Government learnt from the mistakes of the past and stopped people messing about with our food."

All the chefs who agreed to back the FoE campaign presided over restaurants who won the highest rating in this year's Good Food Guide.

Among them was Waldow's, the restaurant at Cliveden, the stately home in Berkshire once owned by Waldorf Astor. Ian Samson, head chef at the adjoining Terrace restaurant, said the introduction of genetically modified food was a "frightening prospect" as the safety of the technology was unproven.

The Good Food Guide's editor, Jim Ainsworth, said: "To introduce `experimental' herbicide-resistant, genetically modified, crops without some soundly based assurance is madness, albeit perfectly legal madness. If BSE has taught us anything, it is surely to be cautious about tampering with natural processes, however well intentioned, however plausibly the benefits are packaged."

Philip Howard, the head chef at The Square restaurant in London, agreed. "It is only now that we are beginning to realise how using steroids, growth promoters and antibiotics has trashed the flavour of what we eat," he said.

Although genetically modified crops are not yet being grown commercially in the UK, such food is being sold in the high street shops and supermarkets. Safeway and Sainsbury's sell puree made from modified tomatoes grown in North America, said Mr Riley.

The alteration of foodstuffs and additives such as lecithin, a soya by-product which is used as an emulsifier in ice-cream and chocolate, was very difficult to detect, he added. Current legislation does not require manufacturers to label those products that contained certain modified ingredients.

It was ironic that the restaurants in the House of Commons had banned genetically modified food, yet the Government were still allowing it to be sold to the public, Mr Riley said.