4 June 2002

Consumer survey finds 94pc want GM foods clearly labelled

By Robert Uhlig, Farming Correspondent

Nineteen out of every 20 shoppers want foods containing genetically modified ingredients to be labelled as such, according to a survey by the Consumers' Association.

The finding comes after the Government's clearest indication yet that it is having second thoughts about the benefits of GM food production.

Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, has announced that the Government's performance and innovation unit will examine the costs and benefits of GM agriculture. She also announced that a national debate, with public meetings around the country this summer, is to be held on the environmental, consumer and agricultural issues surrounding GM crops.

Prof David King, the Government's chief scientist, and Prof Howard Dalton, the chief scientist at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will lead inquiries into the viability and environmental impact of GM crops.

A recent European Union study found that GM crops such as potatoes, soya and oil seed rape would be economically unsustainable in the long term.

The Consumers' Association study found that 94 per cent of consumers thought food containing GM ingredients should be labelled as such. It also found that 87 per cent of consumers thought food containing ingredients that came from a genetically modified plant, but which could not be detected in the final product because they had been processed, should be labelled as GM.

Labelling rules require only ingredients that can be detected in the end-product to be labelled. New proposals to be debated today by the European Parliament Environment Committee would require all GM ingredients to be labelled, using a system of improved tracing throughout the food supply chain.

Sue Davies, the principal policy adviser at the Consumers' Association, said the Government was not supporting the proposals despite every indication that shoppers want all foods containing GM ingredients of any sort to be clearly labelled as such.