So, as predicted the European Parliament voted earlier this week to give member states the right to choose whether to grow GM crops.
Does this, as some would have us believe, herald a future of Frankenstein food in the UK? Or does it pave the way for a more secure, pesticide free era?
Firstly, let’s clear up what EU Parliamentarians actually voted for. In brief, they agreed to let countries choose their own GM destiny, overturning the current regime which has seen a blanket EU-wide policy. No new GM crops have been approved since 1998, as countries opposed to the technology have been able to block it.
Former UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson was a strong advocate of GM and is credited with laying the foundations for this vote. And it means that, in theory at least, the current GM-friendly Government could press ahead with clearance to grow new crops here. However, under the new legislation, any new GM crops must still go through the European risk approval process.
Interestingly, Wales and Scotland, which are both opposed to GM, along with Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg and Poland, can choose to ban the technology altogether.
Peter Melchett, Policy Director of the Soil Association, said it was hard to predict what might happen now: ‘In England it’s unclear because there are currently no GM crops that could be grown in England and it’s not clear if any will be developed, but what is clear is there is still no demand for GM food from supermarkets and others in England.’
Is he right to say that there’s no appetite for GM food here? A question that no doubt you’d like answering too.
Well, the latest findings from research and training charity IGD, shows that consumers are certainly not crying out for GM food. In fact, more than a third say that their understanding of GM technology is poor. Only 4% strongly support GM food and 44% neither support nor oppose it. I think the best way to describe this is ambivalence.
While it does not appear as though GM crops will be grown here imminently (The Guardian revealed an email from Environment Minister Lord de Mauley to the Beyond GM campaigning group promising “pragmatic rules” for separating GM and non-GM crops to allow product labelling, and not foreseeing commercial planting of crops “for at least a few years”), it’s worth remembering that a considerable proportion of UK poultry is fed on GM crops. So if you are keen to continue avoiding GM altogether, check with chicken supplier.
It seems unlikely that much will happen pre-election. But we’ll be keeping a close eye on developments for you.