GM crops and foods in Britain and Europe

GM crops enter Britain mainly as animal feed. There is no commercial growing, but there have been experimental trials of GM potatoes and wheat in recent years. In 2014, a trial of GM Camila sativa ("false flax") is planned, which has a genetically altered oil content (high in omega-3).

GM crops and food can enter Europe as food, animal feed, or biofuels. GM food and feed must be approved by EU regulators and must be labelled, but meat and dairy products produced from animals fed on GM feed are not required to be labelled. In 2011, the EU decided to allow low levels of unapproved GM crops in animal feed. GM crops can be grown experimentally with approval from national regulators, or commercially if approved by the EU.

The current situation is summarised below.

For more about how GM crops and foods are regulated see the GM crops:Regulation section.

GM foods and feed

Large quantities of GM soya and maize are imported into Europe, including Britain, as animal feed. Meat and dairy products fed on GM animal feed are not labelled as GM-fed in British supermarkets. The EU has also decided to allow GM feed to include trace levels of crops which have no safety approval in Europe (i.e. are unauthorised GM crops). Campaign group GM Freeze has published a list of where to buy non-GM-fed meat, milk and eggs. Food and Water Watch Europe has also published campaign information.

Waitrose continues to require non-GM feed for poultry, eggs and lamb. In April 2013, Tesco, the Co-Op and Marks and Spencer announced they will no longer require poultry to be fed on GM-free feed, following similar decisions by Morrisons (March 2012) and Asda (September 2010). Sainsbury is keeping some product lines fed on non-GM soya, but is dropping others. There is a danger that suppliers will no longer segregate GM and non-GM soya in shipments to Britain if the major retailers do not demand it and easily available sources of non-GM meat and dairy products will be lost. However, organic and pasture-fed meat and dairy products will remain GM-free fed.

Some other countries in Europe (Germany, France, Luxembourg, Austria) have Government-sponsored voluntary labelling schemes for non-GM-fed meat, milk and eggs so that consumers can choose to buy non-GM-fed products. Organic standards also require non-GM feed. In Sweden, GM feed is no longer used at all, due to consumer pressure. In 2012, Turkey announced that GM-fed meat, milk and dairy products would be labelled.

Most British retailers do not sell other GM foods and if they stock them they must be labelled (this is also the case elsewhere in Europe). GM Freeze has produced a list of products it has found here. This includes GM cooking oil which is used in some chip shops and takeaways.

A large percentage of GM maize grown in the US is now used in industrial-scale biofuels (agrofuels) subsidised by the US Government. Biofuels do not have to be labelled as containing GM crops and it is possible that some GM biofuels are entering the EU, including Britain.

Commercial growing

Only two GM crops have been approved for commercial growing in the EU. One is a variety of pest-resistant maize (Bt maize) produced by Monsanto (known as MON810). This is grown mainly in Spain (and in smaller quantities in some other countries) for use in animal feed. Cultivation of MON810 is banned in France, Germany, Greece, Austria, Luxemburg and Hungary.

Another GM crop was approved for cultivation in the EU in 2010: a potato known as the Amflora potato, which has been genetically modified by BASF to produce starch for use in paper-making. It was grown in small quantities in Germany and Sweden in 2011. BASF then withdrew from planting GM crops in Europe in January 2012 and in late 2013 the European Court annulled the authorisation, arguing it had not been granted lawfully.

In 2014, following another court case, the EU considered approving the commercial cultivation of another insect-resistant maize (Bt maize 1507) produced by DuPont.

No GM crops are currently grown commercially in Britain. The Bt maize that is grown in Spain is not suitable for growing here and the pests it is resistant to do not occur in Britain. Attempts to introduce herbicide-tolerant GM crops into Britain have been very controversial, because of the expected harmful effects on wildlife and the likely emergence of superweeds. None of these crops are currently approved for commercial growing.

Field trials

Many experimental field trials of GM crops are conducted in Europe. In Britain, there have been field trials of GM potatoes (one in Norfolk and one near Leeds) and GM wheat (at the Rothamsted research centre in Hertfordshire). In 2014, a trial of GM Camila sativa ("false flax") is planned at Rothamsted. This crop has a genetically altered oil content (high in omega-3). Defra lists applications and consents for field trials. There is a public consultation period and the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) provides advice to Government.

Government policy

Scotland has a GM-free policy, as does Wales.

In June 2011, the UK Coalition Government outlined its policy on GM crops in its response to the Science and Technology Committee's report on bioengineering. A summary of the policy has been added to the DEFRA website (under the heading Government policy).

In 2012, the GM industry met with ministers to promote the return of GM crops to Britain. In late 2012, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and Prime Minister David Cameron began to make public statements in support of GM crops.

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