FPC boss says more public debate needed over genetically modified produce

Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) chief executive Nigel Jenney has expressed disappointment on the lack of public debate on genetically modified (GM) foods.

Jenney, speaking last week as part of a debate on GM technology held by the FPC at the Food & Environment Research Agency in Sand Hutton, York, said: "It's been disappointing to see the lack of any real balanced public debate and the recent resignations from the Food Standards Agency's (FSA) steering group to oversee this debate are extremely concerning.

"Let's hope the new Government will inject a bit more vigour into the process and ensure that the public can have greater confidence in the FSA's public engagement exercise."

He added: "The UK horticulture industry already leads in the adoption of integrated pest management systems and the FPC will continue to press the Government and others to ensure that the industry has the necessary tools to provide a sustainable supply of fresh produce. It is important that new technologies including GM products should be considered but based on sound science and on a case-by-case basis, so that informed decisions are taken after full consultation between Government, the industry and consumers." The FPC debate was held as the coalition Government's environment secretary Caroline Spelman revealed in a newspaper interview that she backs GM crops.

A Government-approved field trial of GM potatoes was also being planted last week at a secret location in Norfolk to test whether genes from wild potato relatives can successfully protect commercial potato varieties from late blight without the need to spray fungicides (Grower, 4 June). However, the Soil Association has called for the field trial to be stopped.

Policy manager Emma Hockridge said: "In the same way that we are calling for the FSA to stop wasting money on what is effectively a PR exercise for GM food, this field trial should also be halted. Research should instead be focused on conventional breeding, which is showing much better results at a far cheaper cost."

She added: "A blight-resistant potato variety (Sarpo) has already been bred using conventional methods and is commercially available. The fact that this GM potato variety is still at the field trial stage - after 10 years, no significant results and £1.7m of tax-payers' money - clearly demonstrates what a failing and old technology this is."

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