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.”


Readers' comments (9)

  • GM is not a fait a compli I disagree, the consumers have spoken and over 90% want nothing to do with it. ESPECIALLY using it in our dairy cows, not necessary as using rBst in cows does not help the cow in ANY way and NO ONE wants the added hormone in their food. Only by voting with your fork and supporting organic practices can we finally be done with gm in our food and in our world.

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  • Maria
    My ‘fait accompli’ comment was with reference to the recent EU decision. OMSCo farmers have always stood firmly against the introduction of GM. But now, given legislation is likely to pave the way, consumers have the choice to vote with their forks to stop it gaining momentum.

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  • Choice will only happen if there is clear and transparent labelling. At present there livestock can be fed on GM feed but the product of those livestock do not carry a GM label. This is wrong.

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  • As the founding chairman of OMSCo I find the ignorance shown by Mr Edwards on the GM issue concerning. GM is not a "fait accompli". The current EC proposal has to be approved by the European Parliament and if approved there will almost certainly be measures introduced to cover co-existence and liability. Some countries will prohibit GM crops and in other countries many farmers will see little point in growing them. But what is disturbing is Mr Edwards comment that in the face of a "fait accompli" we should "look on the bright side". There is no "bright side" when non-GM sources of soya are being squeezed out of the supply chain by corporate control of storage and shipping in South America and the actions of pro-GM feed manufactures; there is no "bright side" when GM labelling is not allowed on livestock products; there is no "bright side" to the increasing control of seed by a handful of corporations all of whom have a pro-GM agenda; and there is "bright side" to the risks of contamination of organic crops unless adequate protection measures are put in place. The OMSCo I helped to found would now be gearing up to fight for the most rigorous co-existence and liability measures possible so that organic farmers can be protected from GM contamination. Mr Edward's comments do not inspire confidence that OMSCo is doing this

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  • Sadly GM Crops are everything but organic so why would any farmer claiming to be an organic grower want his own business harmed by his neighbours and the toxins used on GM crops? Just as the real dangers are becoming evident the English farmers want to suffer too. Madness.

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  • I am not against GM in principle (it might have its uses for indoor cultivation of small amounts of medicinal plants, for example) but it would appear that where GM crops and feed are concerned the public has made their choice and it is an emphatic "no thank you"!

    The horsemeat scandal has demonstrated that even with the best will in the world, labelling is not always adequate.

    Given these two facts, plus the known ability of GM crops grown outdoors to cross-pollinate, the logical thing to do would be to keep them where they are now: away from the UK and continental Europe.

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  • The push to introduce GM foods by those with vested interest is a major step in the wrong direction.
    The motives behind this have more to do with commercial gain than beneficial results for the consumers as with all mass production, and has to be stopped before it destroys what remains of the organic food production industries.

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  • I'm just glad we sell our organic milk to a different dairy to Omsco. If our milk buyer made a damn fool comment like that I would despair. Buying organic milk is the only way that the consumer can guarantee
    that their milk is GM free, a very positive marketing point. The way that our government has been bought off by the GM industry is an absolute disgrace. Surely as an island are in a wonderful position to supply GM free food which is genuinely uncontaminated.

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  • I do not want GM alongside my organic land and destroying the basis of my business./I agree with the comments that his its another Government sell out - this one to the lobbying of Monsato

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