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Consumer groups allege pro-GM crops bias

By John Mason, Food and Rural Affairs Correspondent
Financial Times; Mar 14, 2003

Leading consumer groups yesterday accused the Food Standards Agency of being biased in supporting genetically modified crops and failing to address public concerns about the technology.

The National Consumers Council, Consumers' Association and Sustain said the agency's approach to the national debate on GM crops was "highly selective" and "anti-consumer". Dame Sheila McKechnie, head of the Consumers' Association, said: "The FSA is failing in its remit to protect consumers. Our research shows that over half of consumers have concerns about GM, yet the regulator has failed to give any consideration to these concerns. In adopting such a biased stance, the FSA is undermining all the other excellent work it has done since it was established."

The groups' criticism focused on the FSA's website in which it outlines its stance on GM crops as part of the recently launched national debate.

In a letter to Sir John Krebs, the agency's chairman, they accused the agency of selectivity, saying it gave only one side of the argument and failed to address the main uncertainties surrounding GM.

The agency assured consumers that GM foods were as safe to eat as non-GM counterparts and failed to address potential risks and possible long-term health impacts, they said.

The attack will cause concern among many involved in the GM debate. Sir John is also playing a leading role in a review to present the public with an impartial view of the science surrounding GM technology.

The FSA has never before been attacked over its GM stance by mainstream figures such as Deirdre Hutton, chairman of the National Consumer Council and vice chairman of the European Food Standards Authority.

Ms Hutton said: "People have genuine concerns about the safety of GM. All too often they feel left out of the debate and left out of how decisions are made. It is vital that consumers' concerns are not only taken into account, but are acted on."

The Food Standards Agency said its board yesterday discussed feedback on its contribution to the GM debate and endorsed the general approach being taken by the agency.