/ Food & Drink

Should we modify our views on GM food?

Tomatoes being injected

Genetically modified foods were on everyone’s minds a few years ago. Many major food companies adopted non-GM policies and no GM crops are currently grown commercially in the UK. So why is GM rising up again?

Problems of global food security, combined with the need to produce food in a way that minimises environmental impact mean that new ways of producing food are being considered.

This has been termed ‘sustainable intensification’ – i.e. more food with less impact. So, the role that GM crops could play is becoming a hot topic again.

Which? has always taken a neutral position on GM. We’ve focused on making sure that any GM products that come on to the market are safe and you have a meaningful choice over whether to eat them or not.

How European law affects GM

Over the past few years, GM legislation has been updated. Now, any crop that’s to be grown or any food product that’s to be marketed has to be assessed for safety by the European Food Safety Authority and then given approval by EU Member States.

This has to be done on an EU-wide basis. They can take into account social and economic aspects as well as the science. But the European Commission has now proposed changes which would allow Member States to unilaterally decide whether to approve the growing of GM crops or not.

GM ingredients also have to be labelled, but there’s an exemption for accidental contamination of food which means that products can contain up to 0.9% GM ingredients without having to be labelled. Controls over organic food also state that it is incompatible with GM production.

But GM raises many questions which are difficult to deal with through regulation. Issues such as who controls what we eat, the role of multi-national companies and how far we should ‘tamper with nature’ have become wrapped up with concerns about risk and lack of choice.

What consumers think about GM

A recent survey we carried out showed that 62% of people are still concerned about eating GM ingredients, 30% aren’t concerned and 11% don’t know. Seven in ten still think it’s important that retailers have policies not allowing GM ingredients in food and feed.

This matches our previous consumer research which found that many people haven’t been convinced about the benefits of GM foods and don’t think that enough is known about the long-term consequences, although they aren’t necessarily completely opposed to it.

So, is it time for a re-think? Do we need to be more open to GM?

We should certainly look at GM, along with other options for producing more food, more sustainably, to see what best addresses the real problems we face. But rather than a polarised debate where, on the one hand GM is held up as the answer to world hunger and on the other it’s going to end civilisation, we need to focus on what all the different options are and the challenges they bring.

John Symons says:
20 October 2011

I am not concerned about GM in food but think that there should be clear and informative labelling for others’ benefit. I AM concerned about restrictive practices such as farmers not being allowed to use GM seed they collect from their own crops


I am fed up with people messing with my food – GM/radiation/preservatives etc. More organic, local grown, that is the way forward because it takes food production out of the hands of global corporations who are in it purely for profit, and gives the individual more control and is healthier. Choice ? Frankly, I don’t need to have taste-free strawberries in December. Once GM farming is out there – there is no closing pandora’s box, as it is spread to other crops by wind, insects, pollen etc. No choice anymore and definitely no food for free.

Terry says:
24 October 2011

Jools is correct in mentioning Pandora’s box. For the truth about GM food, Please see Dr Mercola com. The information is terrifying. Organic food is best. If you can, grow your own. That way you know where the seed comes from, where it’s grown and what fertilisers are used. It’s also very satisfiying.

Tessa says:
4 November 2013

Consumers need an urgent voice within the CBI and Food Standards Agency
Investor privileges in EU-US trade deal threaten public interest and democracy!

I think consumers need to stay on their guard and learn as much as they can about the various Trade Deals and the geopolitics/corporate lobbying*.
Consumers must not take their eye off the ball if they want to keep GM Food out of the supply chain.
There is no scientific consensus on safety.
The devil will be in the details of the Free Trade Deals.

Consumers need a voice within the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Food Standards Agency (FSA)!

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US will open the floodgate to multi-million Euro lawsuits from corporations challenging democratic policies to protect the environment and public health.

* The CBI have issued a report today.

Further reading:
The Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) held a Stakeholder Forum on the proposed new EU-US free trade agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on 29 October.

Tessa says:
1 November 2013

For those who have time, some might be interested to hear the view points in the GMO Mini Summit.
Please do not be put off by the American presentation style and listen to the content of the speakers and make up your own mind. Next broadcast this coming Sunday.
Unfortunately it appears one will have to buy the “Empowerment Package” to hear the speakers who spoke last weekend but there will be some free highlights.
Have a Nice Day!
GM Food is not labelled in the US but the movement in support of labelling gets bigger and stronger every day. The aim of campaigners in the US is a total ban. There is also a movement to re localise food production and distribution as much as possible.
Concerned consumers in the UK could try and research the proposed EU/US Free Trade Deal.
Genetically modified crops, chlorinated chickens and hormone-treated beef?
Not for me thank you!

Kevin says:
4 November 2013

One point that never seems to be given any credence is the actual ‘NEED’ for more food. Yes you read that correctly I get heartily sick and tired of the worn out old mantra about our needing to feed the starving millions.
So let’s get a couple of home truths fired at these arguments.
In Oliver De Shutters report in 2009 he stated quite correctly that in 2008 the worlds total food production was sufficient to feed 12 billion people. We still hadn’t passed the 7 billion population mark at that time.
Second point to fire in the direction of the lies about needing to produce more food is this. The entire Western world wastes more than 50% of all food produced. In fact we live in a world where more food is wasted than is consumed by humans and animals so we really do need to address the elephant in the room and stop trying to perform magic tricks and illusions in the science lab which only serve to further the aims of corporations and dodgy governments who are simply trying to secure absolute control over the human race. They want to achieve this by controlling one of the very things we cannot do without……food!
So people at Which! and elsewhere in the world, let’s stop this madness of wasting both food for human consumption and research time looking into inventing dodgy ways of securing a perpetual profit for the greedy corporations and let’s start by really making the food we do grow get to where its really needed by fixing the failed globalisation initiative. Let people in the developing world grow their own food for their own consumption and stop these stupid free trade deals. They are anything but free and they only serve to perpetuate a profit fest for the corporations and a science agenda that we do not need, not now nor ever. The planet is dying for want of some tender loving care. Pouring millions of gallons of toxic chemicals onto land simply to help GM crops grow is doing nothing to help the planet or the people. Its killing us all, planet, natural life and people.
There is simply no justification for GM food production. Its not needed and it is not wanted.


Kevin and Tessa – absolutely agree with all you say. Greedy corporations are the cause of starving people. The planet provides food for free but humans exploit and waste what they should respect.
GM brings these types of philosophical arguments forward, because some are trying to create a food fascism. This is a threat to our freedom to grow organically and from seed. Once living things can be patented, there is no end to the power which these people can wield. We shall not be free to grow or even eat what we choose.

Tessa says:
6 November 2013

“The decision was taken despite thousands of protest mails being sent to the Commission.”

European Food Standards Agency

I hoping that WHICH conversation? can provide a response to my following posting, especially bearing in mind the concern felt by informed consumers regarding Trade Deal issues and a possible worsening of already inadequate safety regulations. Many thanks.


EU Commission allows SmartStax for food and feed
Maize 1507 for cultivation to be decided soon

Wednesday, 6. November 2013Brussels / Munich
The EU Commission today authorised the controversial genetically engineered maize SmartStax for food and feed. The decision was taken despite thousands of protest mails being sent to the Commission. Testbiotech and experts from EU Member States have previously pointed out many flaws in the risk assessment performed by Monsanto, DowAgroSciences and the European Food Safety Authority, (EFSA). Testbiotech will now file an official complaint against the Commission decision.

Although SmartStax maize is genetically engineered to produce six insecticidal proteins and is resistant to two herbicides, the combinatorial effects between residues from spraying and the insecticidal toxins were never investigated. Neither has EFSA requested a feeding study with the plants to investigate any effects on health.

“The import of this maize into the EU does not have any advantage for farmers, consumers or animal health. On the contrary, there are considerable remaining doubts about the safety of these plants, which are containing a mix of several toxins”, says Christoph Then for Testbiotech. “The EU food and feed market becomes a place to dispose risky products that nobody wants.”