/ 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.”

Jane says:
6 November 2013

I have to say that I am aghast that the EU Commission has today approved SmartStax maize for food and feed. How could it have gone ahead in the face of public outcry and most importantly, the FACTS, or perhaps I should say, lack of scientific investigation let alone PROOF that, at best, this causes no harm to man, beast, non-targeted insects and the rest of the environment!

I think that Dr Christopher Then of testbiotech put the case for rejection both succinctly and cogently in his letter to the EU Commssion (October 31st, 2013):


For the Commission to carry on regardless is playing fast and loose with our health and that of the planet. I can only conclude that other forces are at play here. What’s more this will only be exacerbated by the conclusion of the secretly-held Trade Agreements (TAFTA and TPP), which could serve only to emasculate any vestige of remaining regulation that is here to protect us, the consumers.

It is easy to feel powerless, particularly when our own government seems hell-bent on ignoring consumer rights and force-feeding us biotech propaganda and ‘food’. I am a member of Which?, and am trusting that you will help champion our rights. Can you please tell me what Which? is planning to do to support testbiotech’s complaint to the Commission and what avenues it is exploring to ensure that the consumer gets listened to, and that the right scientific questions get asked, answered and acted on? I am fed up with having to cut foods out of my diet because I can no longer trust them to do what it says on the tin.

Hi both, we agree with you that it is really important that people can choose whether or not to eat GM foods. We fought hard for an approval process that takes account of a safety assessment but also allows for wider, social and ethical factors to be taken into account, as well as labelling of GM foods and ingredients based on traceability. This is something that we will continue to focus on as GM issues rise up the agenda again.

Please see our most recent piece of research looking at future food production methods, including GM – “The future of food – giving consumers a say”: http://www.staticwhich.co.uk/documents/pdf/the-future-of-food—giving-consumers-a-say—which-report-318060.pdf

Kevin says:
6 November 2013

It still doesn’t make GM food acceptable.
I want to see the research evidence the US corporations and the US government got from their 20 year feeding trial involving the entire population of the US.

What do you mean they didn’t conduct a feeding trial on the entire population of the US?

You mean they have built their entire case on a foundation of none existent research data?

So they don’t have any research data at all showing any and all forms of adverse effects, or lack of them, from any form of feeding trial involving humans? No proof whatsoever that its safe for anyone or anything?

So how can they claim its safe to eat just because the population has been eating GM food for 20 years without the peoples approval or knowledge? No research data, no control group data, no proof of safety. It appears that that particular argument is now well and truly dead in the water.

So what part of my previous comment did you not understand regarding the amount of food we produce globally? Is it because it was produced without the need to use GMO seeds and in far more quantities than we actually need to feed our global population?

Or is it being ignored because there are people with influence moving this agenda along in their direction like they did in Washington State on I-522 where they lied their back teeth out to win a ‘No Labels’ result.
Supported of course by $22 million cash from numerous dubious well known food producing corporations, with personal vested interests, hiding behind their front groups coat tails, known to all as the GMA (Grocery Manufacturers Association)? They won by lying about the need for the American people in Washington State to know what is in their food. So why is it not important to know what is in their food? If it is so good and nourishing and wholesome and healthy then surely they would be happy to let their GMO product get extra advertising coverage? Even if it was only on the ingredients label. They would be getting extra advertising for free.

Well no. Allegedly the people should not be allowed to know what is in their food because it would adversely affect the profits of the food corporations. Can’t have human health and welfare and most importantly ‘freedom of choice’ trumping corporate profits now can we?

Either way the fact remains we do not need GMO technology. Not now not ever.

So what part of ‘NO GMO’s!’ is not being heard here? We have the evidence to suggest most strongly and incontrovertibly that this technology is dangerous on all levels and it is being supported by increasing numbers of highly qualified and highly respected scientists too.
So lets make a stand and state the case for NO GMO’s!

And lets keep it truthful!

You may think I am ranting but after the I-522 debacle in Washington State I am more concerned now than I have ever been about the intentions of our corrupt governments hidden agenda. I strongly suspect a government supported corporate agenda to feed us something we don’t want nor need simply to line the corporate pockets with more profits at the expense of our freedom of choice and our health and more control so we can never escape their grip. What really does concern me is how the EU has now sided with the corporations and even made it a criminal offence to grow seeds that do not appear on their newly created seed register. They have even made provisions for companies to become the keepers of these seeds and whoa betide anyone growing seeds they have saved or have swapped with anyone else……especially open pollinated seeds.
See you all at Seedy Sunday next February 2014. 🙂
The Outlaw!

Jane says:
6 November 2013

Thank you for your prompt reply and report link, Patrick.

I think that GM is already high up the agenda for government, biotech companies and informed consumers. It is an issue that mainstream media seldom reports on the issue and when they do, coverage is superficial and does not question the fundamental assumptions and generalisations made by the pro-GM lobby with respect to the safety, science and even the alleged need for this technology. Let alone the scandal of bribery, croneyism and bullying EU member states. Biotech companies are heralded as saviours, while anti-GM (pro science) people are painted as ‘shouty activists’ rather than the desparately-concerned consumers that we are.

An example of pro-GM bias was seen on the BBC’s One Show broadcast on 12th September. More bias was also seen be the lack of coverage of the two global Marches against Monsanto in May and October this year, each attended by more than a million people – just a brief article in The Guardian in May.

So, please do keep working on this and help get this issue higher up the media’s agenda. Thank you.

Tessa says:
20 November 2013

Thank you for WHICH’s efforts regarding labelling.
What can now be done to get those GM feed labels that consumers want.
Here is an article about the situation in America.
Money talks.
This must not happen here!
Thank you.

Jane says:
6 November 2013

I think that Dr Vandana Shiva, speaking at March Against Monsanto in October, explains the issue very well.


Thank you everyone for the informative posts and links. This is really so important.

I went to a talk on “Global Food Security” last week. The speaker Tim Benton is a government policy adviser and after painting a dismal scenario of world food shortages, his advice to us as consumers is to cut back a little on the amount of meat we eat and support GM and other molecular manipulation of foods. He is touring the country talking to small groups to give the message that we shall be saved by GM, and that Unilever, Tesco et al. are all going to help by discouraging waste of food. Twice he stated that at a meeting he attended of African nations, they begged that the EU lift their ban and allow them to grow GM crops. Stangely enough he didn’t mention the patenting of GM food creations by corporations.

Perhaps I am too cynical, but I think the whole GFS issue has been created and policy advisers etc. being used by Monsanto or whatever names it goes by , to sell its seeds.

Tessa says:
10 November 2013

Hello Mabelline,

I was at Tim’s talk too!
Assuming you mean the talk at Shoreham :-).
I was very concerned by some of Tim’s comments and agreed with other points he made.
I have studied the website of the Global Food Security Programme and am very worried. I sent Tim Benton an email which I will follow up in due course.
There is sufficient information “out there” to challenge some of the points he made.
My guess (?) is that he is not actually fully aware of the major lobbying, resource grab and GEOPOLITICAL shenanigans that are already actually going on – generally speaking you might want to check out John Perkins’ little cartoon http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWlkIfNMCCI.

There is plenty of information about Africa not wanting GM food – that is not to say that there are not problems that need a solution, but I believe other solutions need to be investigated – which I will try and do, then I will write to Tim Benton again. If the “GM sales people” say they have a crop that can do this and do that, I guess some people will fall for it .

I assured Tim Benton that scientific opinion on GM food safety is divided.

I missed the beginning of the talk but if Tim Benton said that America is worried about conflict due to food shortages, I would see this as ironic http://www.grain.org/article/entries/128-the-soils-of-war, “The real agenda behind agricultural reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq”. I am going to try and be positive and hope that a leopard will change its spots.

Firstly let’s tackle those Trade Deals http://corporateeurope.org/trade/2013/05/open-door-gmos-take-action-eu-us-free-trade-agreement !!

We also need to try and find out what we can about some of those well known NGOs that are not always what they seem (research the US Lugar Casey Bill).

Further view points to check out and think about:

DFID accused of putting business interests ahead of poverty fight
The UK government is spending hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money promoting the interests of multinational corporations in Africa instead of fighting poverty, according to a new report.
This AGRA Watch position paper takes a closer look at the Lugar-Casey bill, ‘a case study in the interlocking interests of big business, big philanthropy, US foreign policy and US aid’. It also highlights new developments, both in Kenyan legislation and in the international political economy that ‘threaten to use the global food crisis as an opening to solidify genetic engineering as a necessary part of food security strategies.’

Tessa says:
10 November 2013

“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.”


World Development Movement
“By trying to weaken crucial regulation to curb food speculation, the government is putting the profits of big banks like Goldman Sachs before the fundamental right of people everywhere to access to food. Yet again, our government is doing the banks’ dirty work for them. The UK should be backing tough controls to stop banks gambling on hunger, instead of throwing a wrecking ball.”

Tessa says:
19 November 2013

My recent email to DEFRA regarding Agriculture:

“Imbalance not in the Global Public Interest”.
How can WHICH? help?
Note date of consumer perspective workshop is still to be confirmed.

Balance of Competencies: Agriculture

The Review of the Balance of Competences fulfils a commitment made in the 2010 Coalition Programme for Government. The aim of the Review is to deepen public understanding of the nature of our EU membership, and provide a constructive and serious contribution to the wider European debate about how to modernise, reform and improve the EU in the face of collective challenges.


I would be very grateful if you would keep me in the loop regarding the workshops and the consultation in the above link. Please would you let me know when the dates “to be confirmed” in the workshops are finalised. Can academics/others interested in speaking at these workshops contact you. Thank you.

5. The call for evidence period coincides with periods of consultation on the Agriculture Red Tape Challenge (1) and on the implementation of the 2013 Common Agricultural Policy developments. We will be ensuring that this report draws on evidence presented through other consultations. However, this report is not designed to consider how recent developments are being implemented in the UK e.g. in the design of rural development programmes.

6. As part of the Call for Evidence process, we will be holding several workshops where you will be able to give your views. The aim will be to answer your questions and provide guidance on how to contribute, as well as to stimulate discussion and gather evidence for the final report. All events will be held under the Chatham House Rule. The following workshops are planned (dates and times are provisional):
 Launch of Agriculture Call for Evidence – 5 November (am) – London
 Spending at the EU level (EU budget) – 7 November – London
 The European Perspective – 13 November (am) – Brussels
 The Northern Irish Perspective – 20 November (pm) – Belfast
 The Scottish Perspective – 26 November (pm) – Edinburgh
 The Welsh Perspective – 3 December (pm) – Cardiff
 The consumer perspective – (jointly with Fisheries report) to be confirmed
 The Common Agricultural Policy – 9 December (pm) – London
 Plant Health and Plant Reproductive Materials – 13 December (am) – London
 Academic seminar – January (to be confirmed) – London

I am concerned that supporters of Agroecology will not have a balanced say in the future of Agriculture due to the Government’s support of the Bioeconomy concept (the OECD and EU Horizon2020). There are also funding issues.

In connection with this I feel the cross-contamination rules are insufficient and perceive a conflict of interest with those involved at ACRE.
ACRE is an independent advisory committee composed of leading scientists. Our main function is to give statutory advice to ministers in the UK and Devolved Administrations on the risks to human health and the environment from the release and marketing of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). We also advise on the release of certain non-GM species of plants and animals that are not native to Great Britain.

Here is a link to Coventry University:
The Centre for Agroecology and Food Security is a joint initiative between Coventry University and Garden Organic, the UK’s leading organic growing charity. The aim of the Centre for Agroecology and Food Security (CAFS) is to conduct critical, rigorous and relevant research which will contribute to the development of resilient food systems, which are economically sound, socially just and promote long-term protection of natural resources.

And an organisation in the United States

United Nations

There is no scientific consensus (2) on the safety of GMOs. I strongly feel this has to be resolved on a level playing field despite the political complications (3). BUT HOW when those academics, areas of research, and organisations (including DEFRA) generally supporting the bioeconomy are being given support from the Government and funding (2) priority and those with a differing opinion and offering alternative viewpoints are not being given a voice. I understand there is no longer such a thing as a Botany degree and I am also picking up that many academics do not understand soil ecology, the sustainability and ethical concerns raised by such organisations such at Via Campesina, the Campaign for Real Farming and much more.

I believe these imbalances are not in the global public interest.

Many thanks
Concerned consumer

(1) http://www.redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/themehome/agriculture/

(2) http://www.publicengagement.ac.uk/how/methods/upstream-engagement

So-called “upstream” engagement is becoming more prevalent in the science and society sphere. Fuelled by controversies around GM crops, BSE and nanotechnologies people are questioning scientists more and trusting them less. This has meant that scientists, academics and political decision makers are trying to find ways to engage the public meaningfully in very early stages of research and development. When new technologies with potentially great impact on society emerge, such as geo-engineering, biosynthesis and artificial intelligence, it can be beneficial to discuss ethical and social dilemmas with members of the public. Whilst it can help shape peoples views and understandings, more importantly it enables more thoughtful consideration of the directions and impact of research developments. These issues can then be taken into account in further funding and development of the technology.

Many members of the public see the irony and shortfalls in the above paragraph.

(3) http://therealnews.com/t2/component/content/article/244-devinder-sharma/1563-how-margaret-thatcher-destroyed-public-sector-science-the-case-of-plant-breeding-institute-at-cambridge-

…….Neo-Liberal Authority: Australia and Iraqi Agriculture
By far Australia’s most prominent role in the CPA was reserved for restructuring Iraq’s agriculture sector, the one area where it shared equal authority with the US. On April 22, 2003, two weeks before the CPA was even form
ally declared, John Howard hand picked former Australian Wheat Board (AWB) chairman
Trevor Flugge to be the co-head of the CPA’s Ministry of Agriculture. Flugge shared co-responsibility for restructuring Iraq’s agriculture with US official Dan Amstutz, formerly of the Cargill Corporation, one of the world’s largest agricultural companies and anotorious promoter of genetically modifiedorganisms (Smith, 2005)….

New research from War on Want reveals that the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) has been using the aid budget to promote the interests of multinational food companies in Africa – with potentially devastating effects on small-scale farmers and rural communities.