Labour conference: Debate on GM food vital, says Rooker

Consumers will not want genetically-modified food in their diets until GM technology is proved to benefit them, according to the chairman of the Food Standards Agency.


Speaking at a fringe event at the Labour Party conference in Brighton on Monday (28 September), Jeff Rooker said people were willing to accept GMs in terms of medicines, but food was different.


“Until manufacturers can produce products that have clear consumer benefits, then there will always be a problem explaining GMs to the public,” he said.


“That’s because so far all the benefits are for the producer, rather than the consumer.


“If claims that crops can be grown in drought areas are correct, then there’s an obvious benefit there but, in the past 10 years, where are the new products?”


Lord Rooker said many of the UK’s GM researchers had gone to work in laboratories abroad because of public and industry unwillingness to discuss the potential of further GM research.


The FSA had embarked on a year-long project to encourage people to have an open debate about GM food, he added.


DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn agreed it was vital to have a debate about the viability of GM production.


Speaking at an NFU fringe event later in the day, Mr Benn said people needed to know whether GM produce was safe and whether its production had an impact on the environment.


“To know that we have to have trials,” he said. “I have approved the one trial that has come to me [from the University of Leeds] and it has just restarted after it was trashed by protesters the first time around.


“Only once we’ve had those trials can we have a mature debate about GMs.”