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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

GM Labelling Watchdogs Need Better Leadership and More Cash

Embargoed (22 Jan 2006)

Calls to Pete Riley 0207 837 0642 or 07903 341065

Embargoed until 00:00 (midnight) 22 January 2006

Download the report and summary here.

GM Freeze is calling for improved leadership from the FSA and more money for port health and local authorities to ensure that UK consumers and farmers can be certain that food and feed they buy are correctly labelled as to its GM content and that it does not contain any genetic modifications which are unapproved in the EU. They describe the FSA’s attitude to enforcement as “luke-warm”.

In 2005, GM Freeze surveyed [1] local authority departments with responsibility for enforcing the GM traceability and labelling regulations [2]. The main findings of the survey were:

  • Only one prosecution for a breach of the previous GM labelling regulations took place in 2004 by the local authorities surveyed and only three local authorities mounted investigations into possible breaches.
  • 44% of local authorities questioned had taken no food/feed samples to test for GM content in the last year.
  • Over half of respondents thought their enforcement costs would increase because of the new requirements under the 2004 Regulations.
  • The average cost of the most basic test for GM in food and feed (presence or absence) was £135.66 per sample.
  • Operation budgets for all for local authorities depend partly on the size of the local authority and nature of their area and range from £5,800 to £137,000
  • Responsibility for enforcing GM traceability and labelling regulations in food and feed at ports is split between Port Health Authorities, Environmental Health Departments and Trading Standards Departments [3].

This means that GM contamination could be widespread without being detected.

The GM Freeze report (published today) concludes that the present enforcement procedures fall well short of guaranteeing that unauthorised GM crops are not entering the UK food chain or that GM labelling on food and feed is accurate. The report concludes with a 12 point action plan for improving levels of enforcement providing consumers and farmers with a reliable system of labelling which enables people wanting to avoid GM crops in any part of their diet to do so with full confidence. It also highlights the recent revelation about contamination of maize imports over four years with an unapproved and potentially harmful GM maize (Bt10) as an example of the failures of current enforcement procedures. A recent report on the failure of official agencies to adequately regulate the growing of GM experimental crops in the US highlights the risks of untested GM traits contaminating export crops [4]. Potential high risk GM crops are those modified for pharmaceutical genes.

Further evidence that the FSA did not approach the illegal import of Bt10 with urgency comes in documents released to GM Freeze under the Environmental Information Regulations [5] after an appeal following the FSA’s initial decision to withhold them. The internal DEFRA email stated:

”…the same team that covers these issues in FSA is also dealing with the issue of Sudan 1, and naturally did not see it as such a priority”.

Another internal email released by the FSA confirms that the FSA thought that Bt10 maize was imported to the UK [6]

“Also, is the first part of the third question correct as we do believe some has been imported into the UK?”

The GM Freeze report’s main recommendations (see attached executive summary) are:

  • That the main focus of enforcement should be at ports where potential GM cargoes enter the UK
  • That Port Health Authorities should have sole responsibility for monitoring and enforcement of the imports and receive adequate funding to do this job.
  • Random samples of food and feed sold to consumers and farmers should continue to ensure that segregation of GM and non-GM food in the UK is up to scratch.
  • The FSA must provide much better guidance to local authorities on sampling procedures to ensure that no unauthorised GM traits enter the food chain and labelling is accurate.
  • Cargoes containing unapproved GM traits should be returned to the country of origin.
  • Biotech companies should provide samples of all the crops they are selling or experimenting with around the world so that regulators can develop tests which are lacking at present.

Commenting, GM Freeze Director Pete Riley said,

When the contamination with unapproved Bt10 maize was announced a few weeks after our survey started it confirmed what we were already finding: that food and feed monitoring at our ports was not adequate to prevent GM crops including unapproved varieties getting into our food or feed. Local authorities have been asked to perform a task for which they are not given enough resources or information. The FSA has been luke-warm about these regulations since they were first drafted despite massive public support for clear labelling. Our official consumer watch-dog needs to provide the leadership and cash required to provide the public with a reliable labelling regime for GM in food and feed and to protect them from unapproved imports.


Calls to Pete Riley 0207 837 0642 or 07903 341065.


[1] GM Freeze’s report GM food and Crops: Maintaining Consumer Choice

A report of a survey on the enforcement of the EU GM Traceability and Labelling Regulations is available here.

[2] The GMO Traceability and Labelling (England/Scotland/Wales Northern Ireland) Regulations 2004/2005 (EC Regulation 1830/2003) replacing The Food Labelling (Amendment) Regulations 1999 (EC Regulation 258/97).

[3] At ports responsibility for enforcing the GM Traceability and Labelling regulations for food imports is split between PHAs, Trading Standards and Environmental Health Departments and animal feed between PHAs and Trading Standards except in Northern Ireland where the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARDNI) are also involved.

[4] See

[5] Email within DEFRA copied to FSA 11/4/05 released to GM Freeze on 17 January 2006 under the Environmental Information Regulations(EIR) following an earlier refusal by the FSA to release the documents on the grounds that they were internal discussions (Section12 (4) e of the EIR) and an internal review by the FSA . Other FSA documents are still being withheld under 12(5) (international relations) because they relate to discussions with German government officials.

[6] Internal email within DEFRA copied to FSA/FSA reply Dated 30 March 2005 in Response to a Guardian story by Paul Brown released to GM Freeze on 17 November 2006 under the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) following an earlier refusal by the FSA to release the documents on the grounds that they were internal discussions (Section12 (4) e of the EIR) and an internal review by the FSA .