22 October 1999

GMsconsumer-unfriendly…

AN INFLUENTIAL farmer involved with the introduction of genetically modified crops has warned that consumers are likely to remain unconvinced of their benefits.

The controversy over GM food shows little sign of ending, said Bob Fiddaman, NFU representative on the Supply Chain Initiative for Modified Agricultural Crops, the pro-GM body set up by farmers and the industry to oversee the introduction of GM crops.

Progress is being plagued by scaremongering stories about "Frankenstein foods", said Mr Fiddaman. And he criticised the way ministers had handled the GM issue. "There is not a rational debate going on," he said. "This government is walking on banana skins whereas 18 months ago it thought it was walking on water."

Mr Fiddaman said consumers would remain unconvinced about GM crops unless they saw a price difference or benefit when more products reached supermarket shelves. His comments followed a government-funded report which accused ministers and the biotechnology industry of bungling the GM debate almost as badly as the BSE crisis.

The report, which criticised the way GM crop trials were introduced on British farms, was produced by the Economic and Social Research Council. It recommended a radical rethink of the advisory system controlling the introduction of GM crops and a wider understanding of the associated risks.

Ministers and industry leaders had failed to take on board public concern about GM technology and should take a more cautionary approach. The report said: "Repeatedly, the BSE crisis was mentioned in support of peoples expressions of unease at possible dimensions of biotechnology."

Simply assessing GM crops and foods against existing agricultural practices is not enough, argued the report, especially when intensive farming is under scrutiny. One of the researchers on the team, Prof Terry Marsden, from the University of Wales, said better evaluation was needed of the social effects of GM crops.