GeneWatch PR: House of Lords Lets Down Consumers and the Environment

For Immediate Release – 21st January 1999

GeneWatch response to the report of the House of Lords’ Select Committee on the European Communities: ‘EC Regulation of Genetic Modification in Agriculture’.

In a report published today, a House of Lords Select Committee1 has taken the side of the genetic engineering industry against the British consumer. Their report supports the continuation of genetically modified (GM) food labelling regulations which dictate that foods only have to be labelled if there is altered DNA or protein in the final product. Foods containing oil or lecithin from GM soybean or starch from GM maize will therefore not be labelled as the protein is removed during the production process.

"Although the House of Lords Select Committee said that consumers should be able to have a choice about whether they eat GM foods or not, the majority of foods containing GM ingredients will still not be labelled," said Dr Sue Mayer, Director of GeneWatch. "This flies in the face of opinion polls which consistently demonstrate mounting public concern over the safety of GM foods and the demand for more accurate labelling."2

The Select Committee’s report also recommends that the safety of GM crops should be evaluated by comparing them with present day conventional crops which are being grown according to ‘best practice’ principles.

"It is disappointing that such a weak standard is being proposed. Conventional intensive systems, even with so-called ‘best practice’, cause considerable harm. We should be looking for improvements in our environment and agriculture, not accepting the current levels of damage," said Sue Mayer.

GeneWatch does, however, welcome the Committee’s recommendations for formal public consultation on the safety of GM crops and foods and that Member States of the European Community should have the right to ‘opt out’ of growing GM crops if they believe they will be harmful.

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Notes to Editors

  1. House of Lords Select Committee on The European Communities. Sessions 1998-99 2nd Report EC Regulation of Genetic Modification in Agriculture. HL Paper 11-I. London: The Stationery Office.
  2. A summary of three 1998 Opinion Poll Results in the UK is given below:
    • June 1998: GeneWatch/MORI poll
      77% want a ban on the growing of GE crops until their impacts have been more fully assessed.
      73% are concerned that GE crops could interbreed with natural, wild plants and cause genetic pollution.
      61% do not want to eat GE foods (an 8% increase since a similar MORI poll was conducted in December 1996).
      58% oppose the use of genetic engineering in the development of food (a 7% increase on 1996).
    • June 1998: Guardian/ICM poll (The Guardian June 4th 1998 'Gene genie'.)
      50% not very/not at all happy about the introduction of GE food.
      85% think GE crops should be kept separate.
      96% think that GE foods should be clearly labelled.
      95% think ingredients derived from GE foods should be labelled
    • October 1998: Friends of the Earth/NOP poll (FoE Biotech Mailout. Volume 4, Issue 7, 31st October 1998.)
      58% of supermarket customers believe supermarkets should stop selling GE foods.

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