Organic milk chief says public deserves choice on GM food
THE executive director of the UK’s largest organic milk cooperative has broken ranks with the rest of the organic sector and called for people to be given the option to choose genetically modified (GM) foods.
For years, those involved in organic farming have lobbied at a national, European and global level on the perils of GM technology to the UK’s food sector.
However, Lyndon Edwards, executive director of the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative (OMSCo) told Farmers Guardian GM ‘is not the right thing to do, but I believe people should have the choice’.
He said ‘some’ of the co-operative’s members are also of the same opinion, admitting he would ‘probably be shot’ for airing his views.
‘GM is a fait accompli,’ he added, ‘so we need to look on the bright side’.
Mr Edwards’ comments are unlikely to be well-received by the Soil Association, which certifies the cooperative and has been a vocal opponent to GM.
OMSCo, which represents 200 farms in the UK, has spent millions on three waves of advertising in the past 12 months, much of which promotes the GM-free credentials of organic milk.
Julian Little, government affairs manager at Bayer CropScience, said choice is what the biotech industry has been calling for from the start.
He noted the recent falls in agricultural land used to grow organic crops or raise organic livestock, adding: “From the beginning we have said if people do not want to buy GM, as some suggest, then [growing GM crops in the UK] could be the best marketing ploy ever for the organic sector. Maybe this is the kick-start organic has been waiting for.”
Mr Edwards’ comments follow the EU Environment Council’s move to allow member states rather than Brussels to approve or ban GM crops.
The change could see England press ahead with the technology, but allow Wales and Scotland to remain GM-free.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has been a keen advocate of GM and welcomed the news. However, few others have.
The biotech industry maintained the devil would be in the detail of any such agreement.
EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries, said it was disappointed with a move it sees as ‘contrary to the spirit of the single market’.
Anti-GM campaigners also raised concerns those countries wishing to remain GM-free could struggle.
The Soil Association warned ‘most English farmers now face a looming threat to their business’.
But in an interview with Farmers Guardian, Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said it would never be politicians who make the decisions on whether or not farmers grow GM crops.
He added: “It will be the market that decides, not politicians. Owen Paterson can make GM speeches but until Sainsbury’s and Tesco say they will stock GM food, farmers should listen to their markets.”