GM Freeze sends open letter to supermarkets calling on them to defend customers’ wishes on ‘precision bred’ organisms GM Freeze urges supermarkets to speak up for their customers to the Food Standards Agency
Immediate release (15 Dec 2023)
Contact Leonie Nimmo on 0845 217 8992
GM Freeze has today written to the UK’s leading supermarkets calling on them to respond to the current Food Standards Agency (FSA) consultation on ‘precision bred’ organisms in order to defend their customers’ wishes.
The FSA proposes that food and animal feed produced using techniques such as gene editing should not be subject to risk assessments, separation or traceability requirements, or labelling.(1)
“The FSA’s own research has proven without doubt that the British public want the right to choose whether or not they eat food that has been genetically tampered with,” said GM Freeze Executive Director Leonie Nimmo.(2) “The proposed framework amounts to wholesale deregulation and the removal of critical safety nets.”
There is currently a lack of data on the safety of consuming gene edited plants. The proposed removal of mandatory risk assessments, combined with a lack of traceability and labelling, is of serious concern to the public and independent scientists alike. Leading supermarkets in Europe have expressed concern about parallel deregulation proposals, calling for full traceability and labelling throughout the supply chain.
Also of concern is that the consultation implies that it is up to organic producers and distributors to choose whether or not they allow gene edited products in their supply chains. This is misleading, as organic standards do not allow such products. Ms. Nimmo said: “The sleight of hand around organic standards implies that regulators are either attempting to undermine organic production, or shift the costs of separation onto the organic sector.”
In an open letter, GM Freeze questioned supermarkets over whether they intend to take legal advice regarding what would happen in the event of a safety-related product recall. Should any products or ingredients be found to be unsafe, it is currently unclear who would bear the financial cost and legal responsibility for removing them from shelves.
“Nobody would want to be left carrying the can if all products that contained a particular ingredient had to be removed from shelves because the gene edited versions were not safe and had not been segregated,” said Ms. Nimmo. “The financial implications could be huge. But more importantly, who would be legally responsible if consumers become ill?”
GM Freeze calls on supermarkets to respond to the FSA’s consultation before the deadline of the 6th of January,(3) stating that in order for them to maintain their relationships of trust with their customers, gene edited products must be labelled, traceable and fully risk assessed.
Notes to editors
1) Gene editing is a form of genetic manipulation that involves the insertion of genes from different species into an organism in order to force changes to the pre-existing genome. The transgenic genes are later supposed to be removed. The UK’s regulatory bodies claim that the resulting changes could have been made using conventional breeding techniques, but this view is challenged by independent scientists and undermined by scientific literature.
2) The FSA’s July 2021 consultation found: “most participants strongly felt that labelling should always tell consumers if there are genome edited ingredients in the product, because transparency is crucial to enable consumers to choose for themselves, and to build consumer trust in genome edited foods.” Of the survey respondents to the FSA’s March 2023 consultation, nearly four in five (77%) said it would be important when buying a food item to know if it had been precision bred, and nearly half (45%) said it would be ‘very’ important. Only one in six (15%) said knowing this would not be important.
3) GM Freeze has previously lodged a complaint with the FSA regarding the timing of its consultation, which coincides exactly with consumer facing-businesses’ busiest time of year.
4) GM Freeze is a membership organisation that campaigns for adequate safety regimes, transparency and regulation in relation to the development and commercial release of genetically modified and gene edited plants and animals.
5) The full text of the GM Freeze letter to supermarkets is available here.
6) For comments contact leonie[at]gmfreeze.org or call 0845 217 8992.