Letter to Rooker on labelling
Incidentally, when Jeff Rooker was the minister of state for food safety he said: "I accept the argument that genetic modification is not simply speeding up the natural process. It cannot be when genes are mixed from different species. There is some comfort in the regulatory process for medicine which, I admit, is not in place for food and agriculture." (House of Commons, July 30 1998)
There have been no significant changes to the regulatory system since.
The Soil Association has read with interest the research you published today looking at attitudes to GM, as part of your programme of consumer engagement on genetic modification. I was surprised to hear about the FSA press conference on this, as it seemed to risk prejudging the work of your 'panel of experts' and indeed the input of the Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre for Public Dialogue In Science and Innovation. I understand that your press conference took place on the same day as, but before the start of the first meeting of your GM Dialogue Steering Group.
As you will know, your report 'Exploring attitudes to GM food' states that: "The principles of transparency and consumer choice were clearly a priority for people holding a range of attitudes towards GM foods and this shaped their views on regulation and labelling." The study also states that "People in this study felt strongly that all products which involve GM processes should be labelled. This included products produced with GM technology and products from animals fed on GM animal feed, which do not currently have to be labelled." The researchers note that these views were held by people in favour as well as those opposed to GM food. As a result, the report concluded that "There was widespread support for labelling of all GM food products, including where GM is used as a processing aid or in animal feed".
In the light of your findings, the Soil Association is asking the Food Standards Agency to introduce compulsory labelling of any meat or dairy products from animals fed on GM animal feed.
There is significant evidence that consumers respond to labelling of products produced by animals given GM hormones or fed on GM feed. For example, when American milk was labelled as GM hormone free, sales of GM milk dropped, and in response to their customers' wishes, major companies like Walmart, Safeway, Starbucks and Kraft insisted on buying hormone free milk for their own label products. As you know, accurate labelling has always been vigorously opposed by GM companies in the USA and in Europe.
In Europe, new GM labelling laws in Germany and Austria have made clear that only if products are produced by animals not fed with GM feed can they be labelled as GM free.
Although little research has been done in this area, it is clear that plant chloroplast DNA from GM feed survives in eggs, meat and milk from animals that are fed GM maize and soya. In three published scientific studies, three separate teams of researchers have found GM DNA from animal feed (Roundup Ready oilseed rape, Monsanto's GM MON 810 maize and GM soya) in meat and milk.
I know I have reminded you of this before, but I was very struck by your passionate defence in the House of Commons in 1998 of the need to protect consumers' right to choose non-GM and organic food if that is what they want. Your Agency can now help to deliver that consumer choice by ensuring consumers have accurate information on whether the pork, beef and dairy products they buy come from GM-fed animals (chicken and eggs should be fine, as almost all UK chickens are already fed non-GM feed).
I understand that when the issue of labelling was raised with your staff this morning, they dismissed these points on the basis that your study is unrepresentative. Is this your view, and if so, I wonder if you feel the Agency were wise to spend taxpayers' money on it, and to hold a major press conference to release it?
I look forward to your reply.