UK organic sector fights GM contamination

By Philippa Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Organic food Genetically modified organism

Representatives from the UK organic sector have today urged the UK
environment minister David Miliband not to allow organic food to be
contaminated by genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

A delegation representing 70 organic businesses urged Miliband not to increase the current threshold for GM contamination of organic food from 0.1 per cent to 0.9 per cent. Currently, only food that has a contamination level of less than 0.1 per cent can be sold as organic, but the UK government is suggesting that this level should be raised and that only food with a GM level of more than 0.9 per cent should be labelled as containing GMOs. "There is overwhelming evidence that one of the main reasons that consumers buy organic is to avoid eating food containing any GM,"​ said Alex Smith of Alara, chair of the Food and Drink Federation's organic group. "If the proposals set out by the government were implemented…organic businesses will face enhanced risks of GM contamination, product recall and loss of their most valuable asset, the consumer trust that underlies their brand value." ​ Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, which certifies most organic food in the UK, argued that it made no economic sense for the government to tamper with the current regulations. "The government is putting at risk one of the fastest growing areas of the UK economy,"​ he claimed. "Tesco's organic sales grew by 39 per cent last year. Organic farm shops and box schemes are seeing similar rates of growth." ​ The 70 companies supporting today's initiative have a combined turnover of around £0.95bn (€1.4bn) and, according to a survey in March 2006 by Zomnibus, 65.4 per cent of all adults in the UK have knowingly bought at least one item of organic food in the last 12 months. The Soil Association and Organic Farmers and Growers, another UK certifier of organic crops, confirmed they would maintain the current non-GM standard of 0.1 per cent whatever the government's final decision. The UK government's stance is in line with the EU organic regulation adopted last week by European agriculture ministers, who agreed that organic food can still be labelled as such if it contains up to 0.9 per cent of GMOs, the presence of which is "adventitious or technically unavoidable". EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said last year that a GMO threshold of less than 0.9 per cent would increase costs in organic agriculture. The organic sector is also angry that the government failed to consult it last autumn when finalising its proposals on the co-existence of GM, non-GM and organic crops in the UK. During the consultation, the government met with a number of GM companies, including AstraZeneca, BASF Plant Science, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, Du Pont, Monsanto and Syngenta, but did not speak directly with one organic business, according to today's delegation.

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