DECEMBER 3, 2010: The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is launching a mass public consultation on the controversial debate over GM foods.

At the request of Government the FSA has set up the GM dialogue steering group, which includes advisors from the science and agricultural industries, to inform the debate. The panel will discuss the potential benefits and risks of the technology with consumers and a study published ahead of the consultation this week found the public continued to be ‘confused’ about GM. The study, carried out by the National Centre for Social Research, found there were different levels of understanding among shopper and concluded the public needed more information about the technology. The report identified the FSA as the most trustworthy source of information on GM, while seed companies and anti-GM groups were viewed with suspicion and weren’t seen as having huge sway over consumers. It highlighted a general mistrust of third sector groups which were considered to have ‘vested political interests’ while businesses were considered to have economic interests. The report also acknowledged to role of the media in ‘over hyping’ food scares in the past and pointed to some of the ‘striking images and language’ used to describe GM such as the famous ‘Frankenfoods’ tag, which it claims does not help consumers make informed decisions. It also highlighted the need for better labelling on GM products and meat produced from animals fed on GM. The report said: “There was widespread support for labelling of all GM food products, including where GM is used as a processing aid or in animal feed. “The principles of transparency and consumer choice were clearly a priority for people holding a range of attitudes towards GM foods and this shaped their views on regulation and labelling.” Following publication of the report, the Soil Association has written to FSA chairman Lord Rooker to take action to ensure consumers have all the information they need. Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, said: “Many years ago when he was a minister at the then Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, Lord Rooker spoke passionately in the House of Commons about the need to protect consumers’ right to choose non-GM and organic food if that is what they want. “We are asking him to deliver on that promise by ensuring consumers have accurate information on whether the pork, beef and dairy products they buy come from GM-fed animals – chicken and eggs should be fine, as almost all UK chickens are already fed non-GM feed.”