Post-BSE consumers are very
distrusting

New research by Taylor Nelson Sofres’ Audience Selection service confirms that
retailers and manufacturers have a long way to go when it comes to persuading people that
genetically modified food is the way forward. Of those questioned 62 per cent said they
did not approve of genetically modified food while 74 per cent of interviewees feel that
manufacturers are not doing enough to tell people that their products contain GMOs. And
this was before the latest consumer and media debate of the last few weeks.

There is some variation of
opinion by sex and age, however. Women are far more strongly against genetically modified
food (70 per cent) compared to men (54 per cent), while young people are much more likely
to approve of it compared to their parents or grandparents. Forty per cent of 16-24 year
olds approve of genetically modified food, compared with just 16 per cent of 45-54 year
olds, and 13 per cent of those over 65.

The findings also reveal
that 65 per cent of those interviewed would not knowingly buy genetically modified food.
Again, women feel more strongly about this with 73 per cent saying they wouldn’t knowingly
buy genetically modified food, compared to 56 per cent of men. Forty seven per cent of
those interviewed also believe that genetically modified foods could be detrimental to
their health or that of their children.

In addition, 64 per cent of
interviewees felt that genetically modified food production should be stopped until more
research has been carried out. On this question there were considerable regional
differences with 82 per cent of people in the North East saying genetically modified food
production should be stopped, compared with just 52 per cent in Yorkshire/Humberside, and
50 per cent in the East Midlands.

Incredibly, 81 per cent
think that food producers should spend money on developing organic foods rather than
genetically modified crops, with just eight per cent saying the reverse. Again, there were
some regional differences with those in the East Midlands being most in favour of the
development of organic food (89 per cent), while those in the Yorkshire/Humberside region
were least in favour of this, but still with 77 per cent of those questioned believing it
was more appropriate.

Consumer resistance
What this survey and consumer reaction of the last few weeks shows is that the
agro-chemical companies may carry on developing and promoting GMOs regardless, but you
can’t make consumers eat them. Iceland’s well publicised stand of a few months ago
was followed by a few manufacturers, mostly in the vegetarian or health foods sector,
adopting a positive policy of not using ingredients based wholly or in part on GMOs.

However, recent events have
increased the number of food manufacturers undertaking not to use genetically modified
ingredients in the future or, more interestingly, who never have used GMO’s and want
to make it clear to consumers.

Marlow Foods, makers of
Quorn, is one of the latter. In a short statement the company said: “The Quorn
ingredient is not a product of genetic engineering and Marlow Foods, its manufacturer,
wishes to emphasise and clarify this information with its consumers.

“The major component
of Quorn products is myco-protein which, unlike soya, is mushroom in origin. We can
guarantee that Quorn myco-protein is not genetically modified or engineered in any
way.”

Not surprisingly Hipp
Organic, makers of the highly successful baby foods, have reiterated their position for
absolute clarity. “We guarantee that each and every ingredient in the Hipp range is
not genetically modified,” says a company statement.

Responding to the recent
publicity over GM ingredients, Hipp wanted to reassure mothers of babies and young
children that all organic foods must comply with stringent regulations laid down by the UK
Soil Association and The International Organic Farming Association.

The statement continued:
“This means that HiPP Organic baby foods are grown naturally and do not contain any
GM ingredients. Each individual jar is coded so that all ingredients can be traced back to
the field in which they were grown. Therefore, Hipp is 100 per cent sure of the origin of
every ingredient in all its products.”

Westler Foods, one of the
UK’s leading independent food manufacturers for both supermarkets and the catering sector,
has redesigned its entire product range to ensure it is free of genetically modified
foods. The company is also a major supplier to the school meals sector.

Said David Evans, sales and
marketing director: “While we are fully supportive of government proposals to ensure
that all products purchased in the supermarkets are clearly labelled if they do contain
genetically modified ingredients, it will be a lot more difficult for caterers to label
their menus.

“Therefore, we decided
the simplest step was to redesign the entire product range to ensure it is GMO free. We
felt we had to act fast to give our customers the reassurance that our products are GMO
free. The fact that four out of every, five hot-dogs eaten in Britain’s catering
establishment are a Westler’s product means that we had a clear responsibility as
market leader to meet our customers’ needs. The fact that school caterers are also looking
upon this as a serious issue means that we are right to act quickly in this area.”

Consumer concerns over GM
foods appear not to be just limited to the UK. Carrefour, France’s largest
supermarket chain with outlets worldwide, is also to take GM foods off its shelves. In a
move likely to raise the debate in mainland Europe and further raise the fears for UK
consumers, Carrefour said of its decision:

“Experts worldwide are
divided on the risks posed by the spread and release of GMOs for both consumer health and
the environment. Many questions are still unanswered. For the first time man is crossing
barriers between species. It seems impossible to use, at the present level of knowledge,
to be able to measure the long term consequences. The lack of transparency which surrounds
GMOs is contrary to our principle of traceability.”

So far in the UK only
Iceland Frozen Foods has imposed a total ban on genetic ingredients in its own brand
products. Of the 1,783 products carrying the Carrefour label, 516 of them contained
genetically engineered ingredients. Carrefour has substituted the GMOs in 286 of these.

In the 221 of its products
where substitution was not possible, Carrefour is offering a guarantee of origin to
consumers and insisting that suppliers provide a guarantee of origin proving that the
products do not contain any genetically modified ingredients. In the nine cases where this
was not forthcoming, Carrefour terminated the product line.

However, the UK government
remains fully committed to supporting the use of GMOs in the food chain. Both the Prime
Minister and Agriculture Minister have issue categorical statements about the
government’s continuing support.

In addition, a major new £13m programme of
government support promoting the adoption of biotechnology by industry, called Bio-Wise,
has been announced by the DTI.

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