October 27, 2003



UK Co-op Refuses GM Crops


With the ink still wet on the latest revelations about genetically modified crops in the UK, one of the nation's biggest farmers and retailers has come out strongly against the use of any GM products.

The Co-op supermarket group, which is also Britain's biggest farmer, said this week that regardless of whether the government proceeds with the approval process for the commercialisation of GM crops - no means a certainty given the ambiguous result from the field trial data published last week - would have nothing to do with them.


The Co-p, which calls itself a 'consumer-owned business', sells 5 billion sterling pound worth of food annually and farms 85,000 acres of land in the UK, and already has a self-imposed GM ban in place across all its businesses.


Co-op's declaration comes as a result of survey of its 1574 of its customers and members following the publication of the GM crop trial data last week.


According to the company, the survey found that 55 per cent of those questioned were against GM, with a further 38 per cent yet to be convinced of its benefits. In addition, 78 per cent of people were yet to be convinced that the commercial growing of GM crops should be allowed in the UK and 51 per cent continued to have concerns about the potential long term impact of GM on the environment.


But the fears go far deeper than concerns about the environment. Some 78 per cent of those surveyed said they were unconvinced that GM is safe to eat, and, not surprisingly in light of this fact, 79 per cent said they would not knowingly buy food containing GM ingredients.


Of more concern to supporters of GM foods is the fact that some 62 per cent said they would not eat GM food even if it was proved safe to eat - a level of opposition which could prove extremely hard to break down.


As for who to trust in the wider GM debate, 30 per cent thought independent scientists were the most trustworthy source for information compared with only 13 per cent who specified the government (although a further 11 per cent mentioned the Food Standards Agency as trustworthy).


"We have listened to the experts on both sides of the debate. We have consulted our customers and members and evaluated available evidence. But, on the strength of current scientific knowledge, and the overwhelming opposition of our members, the Co-op is saying no to the commercial growing of GM crops in the UK," said Martin Beaumont, chief executive of the Co-operative Group.


"And we would urge other consumer-led businesses to follow this precautionary approach. Too little is still understood about this technology and how it would impact on our environment in future generations. Let the science and research continue, but, unless, or until, the case is convincingly made, the government has a responsibility to keep the lid on commercial growing," he added.


The Co-op's stance was welcomed by vociferous anti-GM campaigner Friends of the Earth. FoE's GM campaigner Clare Oxborrow said: "Congratulations to the Co-op for listening to its customers and taking positive steps to keep Britain GM-free. We will now be looking for other supermarkets, businesses and major land owners to take action on this important issue too.


"The government should also take a similar stance following its public debate earlier this year which also showed massive public opposition to GM food and crops."
Video >

Follow Us