ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
13 March 2003


For immediate release: 13 March 2003

Miranda Watson, Consumers' Association, Tel: 020 7770 7264
Jeanette Longfield, Sustain, Tel: 020-7837-1228
Diane Gaston, National Consumer Council, Tel: 0207 811 3015

Leading consumer groups unite to condemn the Food Standards Agency (FSA) for shirking a genuine debate on GM

Three of the largest consumer groups in the UK, Consumers' Association, National Consumer Council and Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, have joined forces today, to condemn the FSA over its approach to the public debate on GM.

The three groups have written to Sir John Krebs, Chair of FSA, to criticise FSA, and its 'GM public debate' website, as being anti-consumer and biased in favour of GM technology.

The website, which claims to provide impartial information on GM to help consumers contribute in the public debate, has been attacked by the three groups for failing to address the key issues facing UK consumers

The 'Opening up the debate' leaflet, in particular, is highly selective.  It contains information presented as 'basic information consumers will need to take part in the debate'1 but gives only one side of the argument and fails to address the main uncertainties surrounding GM and its possible implications.

Consumers using the website are provided with details of the benefits of GM but these do not reflect what they are likely to see in the near future.  In addition the FSA has failed to address the potential risks and consumer concerns about the long-term public health impact.  Instead it assures consumers that 'approved GM foods are as safe to eat as their non-GM counterparts'2.

The biased nature of the website is particularly alarming in light of recent research by Consumers' Association showing that 57 per cent of consumers have concerns about the use of GM in food production3, with the main concern being that they do not know enough about it.

Sheila McKechnie, Director, Consumers' Association, said:

"The FSA is failing in its remit to protect consumers.  Our research shows that over half of consumers have concerns about GM, yet the regulator has failed to give any consideration to these concerns.

"In adopting such a biased stance, the FSA is undermining all the other excellent work it has done since it was established.  It must rectify this by re-writing the website immediately to give a genuinely informed and impartial overview of the impact of GM."

Deirdre Hutton, Chairman of the National Consumer Council, said,

"People have genuine concerns about the safety of GM.  All too often they feel left out of the debate and left out of how decisions are made.  It is vital that consumers' concerns are not only taken into account but are acted on. The public debate must be credible, must be wide enough to reflect the range of issues that people are worried about and must engage with those people whose voices are rarely heard."

Jeanette Longfield, Sustain's Co-ordinator, said:

"There are any number of ways in which the FSA could have consulted consumers before launching this ill-conceived debate, but it did not even involve its own Consumer Committee.  This is deeply disappointing."


Notes to editor:

1 FSA press release 'FSA opens GM food debate with citizens' jury and initiatives to involve young people and low income consumers' - 15 February 2003
2 Page 16 of 'GM Food - Opening up the debate', written by the FSA
3 Questions were placed on BMRB's ACCESS Face-to-Face Omnibus survey during the period 16th - 22nd of May 2002. This is a weekly survey providing c.1,000 in-home interviews with adults aged 15 and over across GB. The final results of the omnibus survey are weighted so that they are in line with the national demographic profile.
4 Copies of the "GM Dilemmas" report or the briefing on this issue, available on line at Spokespeople are available for interview. Call Miranda Watson on 020 7770 7264

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