By Dan Flynn
Bite, the quarterly magazine of the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), is stirring the genetically modified (GM) foods debate by dedicating its entire, just-released 32-page issue to the subject.
The United Kingdom’s top food safety agency has published both factual information and a wide cross-section of opinion on GM food. Bite’s GM issue follows the government’s announcement of five key principles for considering GM foods in the UK.
Bite exists so FSA can discuss challenging food-rated issues with the public.
One of the writers in Bite’s GM issue is Stephen O ‘Brien, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of International Development, who questions how the world is going to feed 9 billion people without help from GM foods.
“Biotechnology, including genetic-modification (GM), has an important role to play in developing new crops alongside more traditional technologies and conservation faming,” he says. “There is a strong and rapidly expanding selection of GM products being developed for commercial production.”
Marlam Mayet, director and founder of the African Centre for Biosafety, takes a differing view. “Africa is heading towards genetic contamination by GM crops, loss of agricultural genetic diversity and the degradation of pollution of soils and water,” she wrote. Mayet says crop diversity is at the center of African agriculture, and GM crops threaten that system.
The Bite issue is entitled: “GM – novel cuisine or unpalatable prospect?” It looks at food security and sustainability and asks whether GM may or may not have a valid role to play.
Other contributors to the issue are among the UK’s leading scientists, researchers, consumer advocates, farmers, food manufacturers, government ministers, including from the Scottish and Welsh governments, and NGOs.
The GM-themed issue includes:
— A roundtable debate, titled “Where do we go from here?,” involving representatives from the Food and Drink Federation, the National Farmers’ Union, Which? and the scientific community. (Which? is the name of a consumer group.)
— Patrick Holden, director of the Sustainable Food Trust, and Professor Giles Oldroyd of the John Innes Centre, debating the topic: “Does the world really need GM?”
— Lord Taylor of Holbeach, the government’s lead Minister on GM, explains the government’s position.
— Sir John Beddington, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, on why GM should not be overlooked in the battle for food security.
— The Scottish and Welsh governments on their opposition to the planting of GM crops in their countries.
— Mark Buckingham, a scientist and spokesman for the biotech industry, on why GM could provide part of the answer to resolving world hunger.
The magazine also includes an overview that provides some historical context to the development of GM, an article on how GM food is regulated, an outline of the work of the European Food Safety Authority panel on GM, a map showing the extent of GM cultivation worldwide and a summary of what the FSA has learned by discussing the issue with the public.
FSA says it “doesn’t claim to have the answers when it comes to the introduction of GM food or technology, but it hopes that the latest issue of Bite will encourage interested parties to question whether their approach addresses the real concerns that some consumers have on GM.”
Earlier this month, the American environmental group Food and Water Watch published its own primer on GM crops with a more one-sided conclusion that biotechnology’s contribution to food has failed.