Leading article: Time to guard the shelves

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The Independent Online

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? The question of who will guard the guards is raised again by our revelation today that the Food Standards Agency has privately told food manufacturers and retailers that it will not stop them selling an illegal GM rice. The Agency has already, in its short life, done much to undermine public confidence in its competence and impartiality, taking a seemingly uncritical approach to GM food despite evidence of cause for concern. It has lost no opportunity to attack organic produce. Even a review of its own performance last year found the "vast majority" of its stakeholders considered it biased.

There were signs that the agency might have begun to change its ways, but today's news shows that it is, in fact, worse than ever. The safety, or otherwise, of the GM rice is irrelevant. The point is that it is illegal to sell it in Britain. Yet the Agency is making no real effort to find out whether it is on the shelves, or to make sure that retailers do likewise. It has also indicated that it will not force companies to withdraw the rice if it is found. That is a scandal. It is high time the Agency assumed its proper role at last - putting the interests of consumers above those of the industry.

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