Blog: GM in organic food - are you confused yet?

Catherine Sleep | 1 February 2006

Perception is everything when it comes to buying food, and a recent proposal from the EU has got organic food producers worried. The European Commission proposes to allow organic food to contain up to 0.9% genetically modified material, in an effort to “improve clarity for consumers and farmers”.

Which is odd, because I find the current organic standards that permit no more than 0.1% genetically modified ingredients pretty clear. The waters would be considerably murkier in a world where nearly 1% of an organic product might, or might not, be genetically modified.

Let me put the issue into context for readers in markets whose shoppers munch away happily on GM food. You know who you are. Scientists may be coming round to accepting genetic modification but many consumers are still highly sceptical, particularly in Europe and the Antipodes. In order to win organic certification from the UK’s Soil Association, for example, farmers must guarantee that their produce is 100% GM-free.

Rightly or wrongly, anti-GM sentiment is a key factor driving organic consumption, and the EU proposal stands to jeopardise consumer trust in the organic sector. Most organic farmers believe contamination can and must be avoided, and even 0.9% GM content would be the antithesis of what they are striving for. Many fear that the proposal could undermine their credibility and ‘point of difference’. Will consumers be happy to pay the premium price tag for organic food if they suspect it might contain undeclared GM ingredients?

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