Farming and food minister Lord Rooker this week launched an impassioned criticism of those who attacked GM food and accused them of "ignorance", which was impacting upon public health and climate change.
Lord Rooker was speaking at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference, entitled 'British food chain: is it fit for purpose?' alongside Melanie Leech from the Food and Drink Federation, Andrew Opie from the British Retail Consortium and Paul Temple of the National Farmers' Union. The meeting was chaired by Labour MP Paddy Tipping.
On labelling, Lord Rooker told delegates that there were good prospects that better labelling at a European level would be realised. Opie suggested that labelling of animal welfare issues had increased, but questioned whether consumers thought that this was important. He did acknowledge that awareness and interest was increasing.
On GM Foods, Opie told the audience that the industry "could not sell it as no-one wanted it". While Leech wanted a balanced debate, which she thought was missing due to the stories run by the Daily Mail, Temple told delegates that research into GM was "absolutely crucial to the future of agriculture". He called for much greater understanding of this science within the EU, to find out to what extent it would be beneficial.
Lord Rooker told the BRC that he did not expect the retail industry to sell GM to consumers and, rather, its job was to satisfy customers. It was the government's responsibility to convince people that the science around GM was sound, he insisted. He stressed there was no evidence that anyone had been harmed by GM foods, but conceded that the consumer advantage was also unclear. The benefits were all for the producer, but consumer advantages needed to be understood by scientists and consumers themselves.