GM foods and application of the precautionary principle in Europe

23 April 2014

Written evidence submitted by the Institute of Food Science and Technology

The Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST) is the leading qualifying body for food professionals in Europe and the only professional food body in the UK concerned with all aspects of food science and technology. 

We are passionate about engaging food professionals, recognising standards, growing skills and informing debate.  Our members cover all aspects of food from manufacturing, retailing, and R&D to academia and enforcement. 

IFST is a registered charity with individual members working across all points of the food chain.  We are independent of government, industry, lobby or special interest groups.

IFST is submitting this evidence because advancement and application of food science and technology are in the objectives of the organisation as well as improving public knowledge and awareness of important issues related to the production, safety and quality of food.


Since the commercialisation of GM crops in the mid-1990’s in many parts of the world, genetically modified (GM) crops grown by 12 million farmers (of which 11 million are resource-poor farmers) have already provided significant improvements in the quantity and quality of the food supply while reducing economic cost, energy usage, pesticide usage, fuel usage, soil erosion and carbon emissions, with no scientifically-documented evidence of harm to human health.

In addition to the foregoing benefits, the “second generation” of GM crops and those in the research pipeline have the potential to deliver crops to provide much needed nutritional benefits; crops with more effective utilisation of fertiliser; crops that will grow under drought and other adverse climate conditions; and crops that will grow on previously inhospitable land. Examples include healthier oils from soybean and rapeseed and corn with increased essential amino acids. Third Generation crops are likely to involve molecular farming whereby pharmaceuticals or industrial products may be produced from the crops, such as edible vaccines from banana and potatoes and biodegradable plastics.

Food scientists and technologists can support the responsible introduction of GM techniques provided that issues of product safety, environmental concerns, information and ethics are satisfactorily addressed. IFST considers that these are being addressed but will need (even more intensively) to continue to be so addressed. Only in this way may the benefits that this technology can confer become available, not least to help feed the world's escalating population in the coming decades.

Are current EU and UK regulations intended to assess the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods fit for purpose? If not, why not?

a) With regard to the EU and UK regulations, the IFST believes that the framework is incomplete as it avoids products that should be included. 

b) The regulations seem weak on accounting for benefits and compensation which is not so for other EU regulation.

How have EU and UK regulations on GM foods affected the UK’s international competitiveness?

IFST believes that EU and UK Regulation is extremely cumbersome, expensive and drawn out and is therefore prejudicial to competitiveness and innovation, thus discouraging research activities.

Does the current EU and UK regulatory framework allow for GM foods to effectively contribute to the delivery of the UK Agricultural Technologies Strategy? If not, why not? 

a) GM crops have the potential to fulfil several areas of the UK Agricultural Strategy including applying modern genetic and breeding approaches to improve the quality, sustainability, resilience and yield-led profitability of crops and farm animals; developing integrated approaches to the effective management of crop weeds, pests and diseases within farming systems and improve the use of social and economic science to promote the development, uptake and use of sustainable, resilient and profitable agricultural practice that can deliver affordable, safe and high-quality products.

b) Complex regulatory aspects, particularly for Third generation crops make it likely that crops not used for food production are likely to be chosen for product development, or approvals will be given for contained use only.  The current regulatory frameworks therefore hinder the delivery of the UK Agricultural Strategy.

c) The results of the confusing issues are that any strategy for the development of UK Agricultural Technologies is unduly constrained whilst it tries to address Food Security.

What are the particular barriers to the conduct of research on GM foods in the UK?

No comment

Is the EU’s application of the precautionary principle in relation to GM foods appropriate? Does the EU recognise and handle properly the concepts of hazard and risk?

a) The risks appear to be poorly defined, particularly those associated with the environment; there seems a reluctance to consider and take account of all the information that exists. The ‘selective’ approach to satisfy the needs of those who oppose the technology should be abandoned. The concern is that the controversy over first generation crops may cloud the future of the second. Proper regulatory systems should account for the application of the risks and values for new and emerging technology and crops, many of which are already in the research pipeline.

b) As research in second and third generation GM crops continues beyond the now simple insertion of single genes, GM food products will become more complex, as will the risks associated with them. It is unlikely that a system designed for regulation of traditional agricultural products can adequately assess safety of GM crops within the current system.

Are there other examples of EU regulation in which the precautionary principle has not been applied appropriately?

No comment