GM Labeling Not Enough For UK Public

LONDON, United Kingdom, September 25, 2000 (ENS) - The United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency wants genetically modified (GM) animal feed to be labeled, but a poll released by the environmental group Greenpeace Monday suggests that is not enough for the public.

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A poster produced by Greenpeace-UK in its campaign against GM foods. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
The agency was set up by the government in April and advises the public and government on general food safety "from farm to fork." Last Thursday it called for mandatory labeling of GM animal feed.

But 67 percent of respondents to the NOP Research Group poll commissioned by Greenpeace-UK do not want farm animals fed on GM crops.

Genetic modification involves changing an organism's gene sequence to achieve certain qualities, such as resistance to pesticides, or a higher vitamin count.

Such technology is routinely used in research laboratories worldwide and has resulted in many new products and processes such as industrial enzymes and medicines such as insulin and vaccines.

But its use in agriculture and the food industry is the focus of intense public and political debate in the UK and around the world. Last week 28 Greenpeace volunteers were cleared of causing criminal damage to a test crop of GM maize (corn) in eastern England.

Consumers, environmentalists and some scientists worry about risks to human health and the environment.

Among their concerns are that GM crops could cause toxic or allergenic effects and large scale elimination of indigenous agricultural and natural species.

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Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed a process to convert food processing wastes, such as those from potato processing, to protein supplement for cattle feed. (Photo courtesy Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)
In the NOP poll, 55 percent of the 1,001 adults surveyed by telephone said they did not wish to eat animal products like meat, eggs, milk and cheese from animals fed on GM crops. Only 23 said they would be happy or very happy to eat such products.

The clearest majority responded to the question, "Do you think that eggs, meat, milk, etc, from animals fed on a diet containing GM crops should be labeled as such, or not?" Ninety percent said yes.

Greenpeace believes the survey results will have serious implications for supermarkets already under intense pressure to make their positions known on the issue of GM food.

All UK supermarket chains appear to be making varying commitments to stocking organic or free-range produce free of genetic modification. As of September, the Iceland chain committed to selling meat products from livestock reared on a non-GM diet. It has already achieved a non-GM feed status for all Own Label poultry and laying hens.

Outlets such as ASDA-Walmart have removed genetically modified products from its own brand name lines and are working with suppliers to remove GM crops from animal feed.

Safeway offers organic products but has stopped short of phasing out genetically modified foods, citing customer choice as the reason.

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Canola, or oil rapeseed, is often genetically modified. It shows up on the grocery shelves as cooking oil and in baked goods. (Photo courtesy Narrandera High School)
The U.S. and Europe have organized a series of high level discussions to resolve issues of genetic modification. The first meeting of the new EU-US Biotechnology Consultative Forum took place September 12. Ruud Lubbers, professor of Globalisation at Tilburg University and former Prime Minister of The Netherlands, is the European co-chair of Forum. His U.S. counterpart is Cutberto Garza, chair of the U.S. National Academies Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board.

The establishment of the Consultative Forum was announced at the EU-US Summit in May, in follow-up to a joint initiative by European Commission President, Romano Prodi, and U.S. President, Bill Clinton.