Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Loaf of white bread with Soil Association logo baked on

How can I avoid GM food?

Call me old-fashioned, but I refuse to eat or support GM food. How can I avoid it?

If you have an ethical dilemma, email Lucy at
Lucy Siegle: 'Your options are to a) move to Bhutan or b) buy only from the organic system, specifically Soil Association certified'. Photograph: Alamy
Old-fashioned? The environment secretary Owen Paterson might call you "wicked", as being anti-GM is seen as being anti-science and to deny the world a solution to hunger. David Cameron, the PM, has also said we need to revisit our stance on GM. In short: we should stop biting the hand that could feed us (transgenically). Critics say this is a concerted campaign to soften us up until we give in to biotech corporations.

Actually GM haters in other nations look at our supermarket shelves with envy. This may not be the land of GM-free milk and honey it once was, but multinationals think there's enough of an anti-GM audience to provide products that are explicitly GM-free. "Want non-GMO Cheerios? Move to Europe!" says the headline to one US consumer piece.

Here products that "intentionally" contain genetically modified ingredients must be labelled by law, but there exists a tolerance threshold of 0.9% per ingredient, per product containing "accidental" authorised GMOs (some 50 GMO products are authorised in the EU), and a 0.5% tolerance threshold for non-authorised materials. This freaks out some consumers, like you, who believe these "hidden" GMs pose a health risk and may cause allergies.

Your options are to a) move to Bhutan (it has a goal of becoming wholly organic by 2020) or b) buy only from the organic system, specifically Soil Association certified, as they specify a threshold of 0.1% (the lowest detectable level possible).

Until very recently I could have pointed you towards a number of major supermarkets to pick up a guaranteed GM-free chicken. Now all except Waitrose have reneged on a commitment to GM-free feed for chickens producing meat and eggs. They argue there is simply not enough GM-free feed available globally. (The EU needs to import 35m tonnes of soya every year to feed animals; meanwhile 80% of world soya is now transgenic.) Bunkum, says the anti-GM movement.
By the time you read this, we'll know if that movement in the US has been successful in making Washington the first US state to require labelling of GMOs. Meanwhile it is becoming hard to keep GMOs out of the food chain. Global food conglomerates forced to run a separate supply chain for non-GMOs will pass the cost on to us. Be prepared to stand your ground, and unfortunately to fork out more for GM-free.

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