NFU calls for objective research into GM as report shows consumer indecision

The NFU is seeking objective analysis of genetically modified (GM) technologies to raise consumer awareness about the definition of GM foods.

The move follows a survey from food research body IGD showing that more than half of consumers remain undecided on the use of GM technology, with only seven per cent able to give an accurate definition of GM foods.

NFU president Peter Kendall said the survey of almost 6,000 consumers demonstrates that the majority remain undecided about GM, contrary to the one-sided debate normally portrayed in national media. He believes that this highlights a clear need for independent research and objective debate to allow the public to make an informed decision.

He said: "The survey found that the majority of consumers perceived a balance of risks and potential benefits from GM, including the widespread view that GM could help improve output and help feed a growing world population.

"The gauntlet has been thrown down to the Food Standards Agency. We are now asking them to take up GM research and provide the information needed by the public and growers alike."

The call comes just a few weeks after speakers at a Campden & Chorelywood Food Research Association conference on the nutritional quality of fresh produce concluded that the health-boosting compounds of fruit and vegetables could be enhanced with changes to agronomic factors - but they were small compared with the effects of good or bad summers.

The best news was that the most reliable enhancement route was to exploit the genetic differences between varieties. Conventional breeding could help boost levels, but the quickest route was to use genetic engineering.

Professor Richard Mithen, from the Institute of Food Research Norwich was unequivocal: "There is huge potential in metabolic engineering." Mithen said the challenge was to develop new cultivars that produce more phytochemicals, even in poor weather conditions, and this challenge could be answered by genetic modification.

Professor Greg Tucker from the University of Nottingham agreed that exploiting natural variation in the content of phytoactive compounds in crop species gave the greatest gains and that genetic modification was the way to produce the greatest benefits.

He went on to list GM research around the world geared towards enhancing nutrient content and which has produced, among other varieties, tomatoes with enhanced Vitamin C, folates and flavanols.

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