According to the Soil Association, the leading UK association for organic food and farming, the government's co-existence proposals will spoil the £950m organic market. The government intends to raise the threshold for the presence of genetically modified organisms in organic food products from a zero tolerance to 0.9 percent, the maximum amount of fortuitous gpresence allowed in conventional foods withoutf labelling.
Last week, a delegation representing 74 organic businesses met in the House of Commons to express their concerns. "There is overwhelming evidence that one of the main reasons that consumers buy organic is to avoid eating food containing any GM," said Alex Smith of Alara, chair of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF)'s Organic Group. "If the proposals set out by the government were implemented, very significant new economic burdens could be placed on organic food producers, manufacturers and retailers. Organic businesses will face enhanced risks of GM contamination, product recall and loss of their most valuable asset, the consumer trust that underlies their brand value".
Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, added: "The government is putting at risk one of the fastest growing areas of the UK economy. Tesco's organic sales grew by 39 percent last year. Organic farm shops and box schemes are seeing similar rates of growth." In contrast, Simon Barber, director of the plant biotechnology unit at EuropaBio, the European association for bioindustries, said recently that thousands of European farmers grew GM crops last year, co-existing successfully with their neighbours.
Last autumn, the British government conducted a public consultation on the planned co-existence regulations. The Soil Association, however, claims that while the government met with a number of GM companies during the consultation, no organic businesses were consulted directly. "We hope it is not too late for the Government to change their pro-GM stance, which threatens public trust in organic farming and food," Melchett said. According to the UK government, no commercial cultivation of GMOs will be permitted in the UK until co-existence legislation has been enacted.