Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 133 - 159)




  133.  Good morning. May I welcome you to the Sub-Committee. Thank you very much indeed for having come to give evidence to us and assist us in the enquiry which we are conducting into genetic modification in agriculture with particular reference to EC regulation. Could I start by asking you to introduce yourselves?
  (Miss Davies)  I am Sue Davies and I am a Principal Policy Researcher at Consumers' Association dealing with food issues. My colleague is Julie Sheppard, who is Senior Public Affairs Officer at CA, also dealing with food issues.

Lord Gallacher

  134.  Miss Davies, what do you consider to be the most important implications of this technology for the consumer? On balance, does it have a real benefit or disbenefit for consumers?
  (Miss Davies)  I think it is possible that genetic modification could have benefits for the consumer. Some of the benefits that we have heard that may be possible are that foods could taste better, they could have a better nutritional content, we could be able to grow crops in areas where at the moment it is impossible to grow them, and there could also be environmental benefits. Unfortunately, the benefits that we have seen so far mainly relate to the agronomic characteristics of plants and have not really had a direct impact on the consumer. The research we have done has shown that the reverse of this is that consumers have concerns that genetic modification raises ethical issues, they are concerned about the impact on the environment, and when we have done surveys people raise concerns about the fact that it might be unnatural and about what the long term consequences would be once you start to have a lot of genetically modified foods on the supermarket shelves. Overall the important thing is to give people information about genetic modification so that consumers can decide for themselves whether or not they think there is a benefit from individual products.

Lord Rathcavan

  135.  Miss Davies, I want to ask you what you consider to be the risks of GM crops when they are released into the environment and grown by farmers. Are you content with the way it is proposed to regulate these risks and, if not, why not? Do you think a case by case approach to risk is appropriate?
  (Miss Davies)  It is often said that genetic modification of crops is just the next stage on from traditional plant breeding as we have been doing for several generations, but the main difference with genetically modified crops is that we are talking about gene transfer over a much more rapid timescale. It is also possible to transfer genes between different species. We have already seen experimentally that it is possible to put genes from a fish for example in a plant. You can put genes from bacteria into plants. I think it is very important to be far more cautious about what we are doing, particularly as we are likely to be growing these crops on a very wide scale across the world. One of our concerns about the way they are regulated at the moment is that they are done on a case by case basis as different crops come up for approval, and there is not enough attention paid to what the overall impact is going to be on the eco system for example once you have got them being grown on a very wide scale. The way that they are checked is by field trials which, by their nature, have to be done on a fairly small timescale, and that does not really reflect what is going to happen when you are growing these crops on a wide scale throughout the country. In view of the possible implications if something did go wrong, I think it is very important to take a cautious approach to the way that they are grown.

  136.  Are you content with the way risks are regulated at the moment?
  (Miss Davies)  One of our concerns is that with Directive 90/220 which covers the approval there is not any requirement for long term monitoring of crops. The Commission's proposal for a revision to 90/220 suggests that there will be this seven year period during which there will be monitoring and after which the approval will have to be reconsidered, and that is something that we definitely support. The other problem is that there has been inconsistent risk assessment across the European Union where different advisory committees take different approaches to genetically modified crops. The example of this was with the Bt corn, which had the antibiotic resistant marker gene in it, where you had the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes here in the United Kingdom deciding that it presented a low but possible risk and that it should not be approved if it was not processed, whereas you then get the European committees considering it and, based on the same evidence, they come to a different conclusion. It is important therefore that we establish consistent methods of risk assessment so that we are guaranteed the same safeguards wherever these crops are going to be approved.


  137.  You call for monitoring in your paper "Gene Cuisine", which you kindly sent. Could you say something about what that monitoring should be for? You refer in your document to the possible impact on diet. You refer to the need to discover more about the build-up of antibiotic resistance. What specifically and how many goals should there be in monitoring and on whom should the burden of monitoring be placed?
  (Miss Sheppard)  Obviously monitoring is critically important given that the field trials are themselves a limited indicator of what might be a potential risk. What should be monitored, why it should be monitored and how it should be monitored I think is a matter for public debate which has not yet been had. I know that Jeff Rooker, the Food Safety Minister, has already committed himself to further work on monitoring. They have already set up a working group as part of the ACNFP to look at the difficulties of monitoring genetically modified ingredients once they are in the food chain. That was thrown open to the public and I went along as an observer. One of the things that was very obvious from the discussions was how difficult this problem is going to be, especially with, say, genetically modified commodity crops which have not been segregated, which are very difficult to trace throughout the food chain. The question of how can you monitor what cannot be traced is extraordinarily difficult. Also, when you are dealing with a commodity ingredient these are often used in very small quantities but they are used across a very wide range of foodstuffs. How will that practically be done? From the discussions that I heard amongst the experts there, it was clear that this was going to prove to be a very intractable problem. I think the implication of that is not that we should not try and monitor but, given the difficulties that we are going to encounter with that, maybe we need to look again at the regulatory approval process to make sure that that is as robust as we can make it simply because downstream we are going to have all these enormously difficult problems to deal with.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

  138.  Just before I ask my questions, could I follow on with a point that my Lord Chairman has raised on monitoring. Surely you can only monitor that which is measurable and you cannot manage something which you do not measure.
  (Miss Sheppard)  Sure.

  139.  Or the other way round, which is the point you are making. But surely the Consumers' Association need to have a view on what are those issues in genetically modified foods that are giving cause for concern to consumers so that you can start and focus on to those issues that might need monitoring. Surely that is an issue that you will have to address, is it not, because if there is a public debate the Consumers' Association is an organisation which has a view on it.
  (Miss Sheppard)  Certainly it is a whole area that we are going to have to address. Clearly we are as concerned as everybody else about for example the creation of allergies or new toxins. I listened to a roomful of assembled experts drawn from many different disciplines and they were finding it extremely difficult to identify precisely what should be monitored and how it could be monitored. I think we do need to have a public debate but we also need to have better expertise available so that we are able to address that problem but yes, clearly, we are going to be very active in that debate when it happens.

  140.  Could I now move on to my questions but first of all may I declare that I do have an interest as a farmer and I am in the food industry but I do not deal with GM products. As you said in answer to Lord Gallacher's question, you appreciate that consumers in the United Kingdom have concerns over GM foods, although these are not easy to define or measure. From evidence that we have received it is suggested that this is partly due to the BSE and other food scares that have been concerning the public and have been very much in the public eye over recent years. How do you feel that these consumer concerns should be dealt with?
  (Miss Sheppard)  I think you are right to pinpoint that there has been a breakdown in public confidence over the way in which we manage food risks and that, as you rightly say, is probably related to, latterly, BSE but also other food scares that we have witnesses over the last decade. It is certainly true that because of that consumers are probably no longer willing to accept blanket assertions of safety either from experts or politicians. We are hoping that the new Food Standards Agency will help address the problem of restoring public confidence in the way in which we control food risks. It is going to take a number of years before that is in place and in the meantime the technology is developing at a fairly rapid pace and there are other things that we could possibly do in the interim. If we think about how risks are communicated more generally to the public, it is certainly the case that in the past expertise has not been very willing to acknowledge the uncertainties and incompleteness of scientific knowledge and I think that is one of the things that needs to be done in order to address public confidence. Notwithstanding that, I think we need to acknowledge that even when consumers have the best possible and fullest information available to them, they still take the view that the risks associated with this technology are not acceptable to them. Whether or not you and I agree with these if you like ethical reasons for rejecting or feeling sceptical about the technology, I think it is something that we need to take into account. It is going to be very important that consumers are given the choice about whether they consume genetically modified foods or not, and that implies segregation, traceability and proper labelling. We need to have a proper public debate. Our research has suggested that in fact people's attitudes to different applications of genetic modification can be very different. People who feel relatively relaxed about plant biotechnology may not feel the same way about, say, the genetic modification of animals. There is if you like a spectrum of opinion even within one individual. In a sense our regulatory framework is not sensitive enough to those kinds of gradations, those nuances, in opinion towards genetic modification. The reason why we are seeing so much controversy over genetic modification at the moment is that the technology if you like has run apace of public acceptance and we do need to have a public debate about what direction the technology ought to go in or indeed whether it ought to be applied or not and in what areas. For the future, what we can learn from the current controversy which is being played out in the media is that we need to have some kind of mechanism whereby we have the public debate before the stuff hits the supermarket shelves. In a sense what we are seeing now is a debate that should have happened nearly 10 years ago.

  141.  You are the Consumers' Association so I assume from that that you will have a better understanding of how consumers feel on the quality of food. Putting GM to one side for a moment, what is your view on the quality of food that is now offered to British consumers? Is it actually worse than it was? Are there specific problems, or would you agree with me that possibly the quality of British food that is now offered to consumers is probably as high as it has ever been?
  (Miss Davies)  As you say, there is some very good quality food around and we are starting to develop mechanisms like hazard analysis to make sure that we are increasing controls at all stages throughout the food chain. We have had a lot of problems with the food chain: cases of food poisoning for example which, for some reason which nobody knows, continue to rise, so there are a lot of problems at the same time that you really do need to tackle. As you say, I think this has made people concerned about new technologies and the pace of change that can take place before we are sure about what all the possible implications could be.

Lord Moran

  142.  In relation to what you said just now, is it your impression that consumers in this country are more concerned about genetic modification in animals and fish than they are about modification of plants?
  (Miss Sheppard)  Certainly our research seems to bear that out and that seems to be duplicated in other research that we have seen on consumer attitudes towards different applications, yes.
  (Miss Davies)  One of the interesting things that we are going to have to debate is where consumers would actually find genetic modification of animals acceptable, if they would at all. There is research already under way, for example looking at making animals resistant to disease and so we need to have a debate about whether having animals that have a lower instance of E.coli or campylobacter is going to make genetic modification of animals acceptable to some consumers. As Miss Sheppard pointed out, we need to have that debate before suddenly, in three or four years' time, we have actually got meat on sale in supermarkets and find out that it has been produced using genetic modification.

Baroness Young of Old Scone

  143.  The two regulatory committees, ACRE and the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, are really, in terms of their remit, primarily concerned with safety issues. Do you think that there should be some forum for the resolution of some of these wider issues, for example the role of GM crops in agriculture and the environmental aspects?
  (Miss Davies)  Yes, definitely, because, as you say, there are the two committees that deal with genetically modified foods as well as the Food Advisory Committee that does have a role. They have very specific technical remits. Some of these broader issues about what the overall effect is going to be on the eco-system, for example; what impact it is going to have on the use of chemicals in agriculture, and also the practical issues, such as how do we actually trace these products? how do we ensure segregation? have been missed while we have been focusing on this case by case approach. We definitely need some body that is going to look at the wider issues, particularly as we get a lot of products coming on to the market.
  (Miss Sheppard)  Could I add that because the regulatory process is not allowed to address, if you like, these big picture questions, that in fact fuels the controversy out there in the world, in the media. If those big questions that are concerning the public are not addressed inside the system, then they can only be addressed outside the system and I do not think that is very helpful.


  144.  Do you have any ideas as to how this should be addressed? Would you like to change the remit of the existing advisory committees or establish a new advisory committee? If so, how would that tie into the existing ones and into the whole regulatory process?
  (Miss Sheppard)  One of the things that we have already suggested to the Food Safety Minister is that there needs to be some kind of co-ordinating committee that tries to pick up these big picture questions that at present fall through the gaps in the system. Obviously we are not too keen on setting up more layers of bureaucracy but we do think that there is a really clear role for some kind of co-ordinating body that can pick up these questions.

Baroness Young of Old Scone

  145.  You were very clear that, because of the difficulties in monitoring, regulation needed to be fairly rigorous as a first stage. Are there any thoughts you have, either on the regulatory or monitoring process, in respect of these broader environmental issues and broader agricultural issues?
  (Miss Sheppard)  For example, it is not part of ACRE's remit to look at, say, the impact of GM crops on the use of broad spectrum herbicides. It is not within the remit of, say, ACFNP to address questions relating to the need for traceability through the food system. These are all absolutely critical questions and these are the questions that have if you like fuelled public controversy. It would be far better, as I said before, if these were addressed inside the regulatory system rather than only outside.

Lord Gisborough

  146.  Should public participation in the regulatory process be improved?
  (Miss Sheppard)  I do not think it will be any surprise to you to be told that our answer is yes. Because of the public anxieties that are surrounding this technology we think that the Government needs to increase public participation in the form of consumer representation on the relevant advisory committees, but also be much more proactive about soliciting public views and opinions on developments and proposals that they have got in train. There are lots of different devices for doing that. We always draw a distinction between consumer representation and soliciting views from consumers. The role of a consumer representative is to represent the consumer interest. That is not the same thing as soliciting views from consumers. There are two parallel systems running here. I think we need to strengthen both. I suppose we need to ask what consumer representation is for. We think there are several advantages in improving the role of consumers on these committees. Consumers very often ask the kinds of questions that simply have not occurred to the experts, the flat-footed, obvious question that might occur to you and me about, "How are we going to monitor this?" may simply not occur to some of the experts who were locked into very detailed discussions of the finer points of genetic modification. I also think that increasing the role of the consumer on committees improves the openness and transparency of the process. It is really important in terms of restoring public confidence in the system that consumers do not feel that these are decisions that are being made behind closed doors to which they do not have access. Obviously we are aware that although our national advisory committees do give advice and take decisions and make recommendations, increasingly these decisions are being taken by international regulatory bodies. At the moment there is no consumer representation on EU scientific advisory committees as we have in the United Kingdom. We think that this has got to be addressed with some urgency. It seems to us there can be no valid reason for excluding consumers at a European level when we happily include them on United Kingdom committees. Here in the United Kingdom we have had a good experience of doing that. We think that ought to be addressed at EU level but also in organisations like Codex where very important decisions are taken about, say, labelling which again has very inadequate consumer representation and that also needs to be addressed.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

  147.  The traditional way to test consumer reaction has been the market place. Do you think that the way in which things are changing that is no longer the way to deal with new products coming on to the market? Do you think that if we set up small consumer groups to test something, if we had done it 100 years ago Mr Ford would have made the first motor car? When producers put a product into the market place it is a risk. The consumer may not like it and out of the new products that are put into the market place the vast majority fail because the consumer does not like them for some reason or another. Do you now feel that the time has come to re-look at that traditional system for testing consumer products?
  (Miss Sheppard)  The market has always been a very fallible instrument for telling us what consumers want and do not want. Particularly in relation to genetic modification it is fatally flawed. The distortions in the international commodity market are such that market forces do not operate very freely. I do not think anybody would claim that we have got a market mechanism for ensuring that consumers who want to eat genetically modified ingredients or do not want to can effectively articulate that through the market. I think the market is a very imperfect instrument in relation to genetic modification and we do have look at other mechanisms that we might use.

Lord Redesdale

  148.  You said earlier that this is a debate that should have taken place 10 years ago and there seems to be a large pressure building up in the press over the risks that genetically modified food are producing. Do you think that is going to have an irrational reaction from the public or do you actually think that they are going to accept genetically modified food because it is already there on the supermarket shelves or could you see a point at which this movement would build up such a head of steam that there would actually be outright rejection of genetically modified food
  (Miss Sheppard)  It is not surprising that consumers get concerned about new technology, particularly when it appears to be moving quite quickly. We have found that consumers have very different attitudes towards food than they do say towards a new washing machines or new vacuum cleaners. It is a very personal thing; it is something that you experience every day. It is, or was at one time, at the threshold of family life. It is a very sensitive barometer of how people are feeling. It is also true that consumers are much less likely to be reassured by experts saying that something is perfectly safe and even less by politicians saying it. I think that as a society there are social changes going on which are making us feel more socially insecure: job insecurities, family breakdown, all these sorts of things. I think that means that probably we are more preoccupied with risk than we once used to be because we do not feel quite so much in control of our lives as we used to be. I think there are very legitimate concerns about genetic modification and I think that the sorts of worries that we have seen are not irrational but rather a rational response to some of the bigger changes that are taking place in society, certainly to some of the failures that we have seen in risk management over the last decade. It is not helped when there is a perception that genetically modified food has been foisted on to the market without adequate discussion or without making provisions for adequate choice or labelling. Nevertheless, no matter what you or I might think, there are always going to be people who feel utterly opposed to this technology on ethical grounds. I think that has to be respected. It may well be that had genetically modified soya been introduced rather more sensitively than it was, we might not have seen the whole criticism that has followed in its train but we need to recognise that there will be some people who are always going to be opposed to it.

Lord Grantchester

  149.  There are other technologies, like BST (Bovine Somatotrophin) that have come onto the market, and the farmers or consumers have resisted them to the extent that the issue has gone away. Do you see that genetic modification could be such an issue that might go away if people voiced their concerns strongly enough for long enough?
  (Miss Davies)  In the case of BST I do not think it has quite gone away yet because there is a moratorium at the moment until the year 2000 and it is an issue that is being considered within Codex Alimentarius and they have put off their decision until September when they have a meeting to decide what issues should be considered in relation to approval of BST. I think the pace of development of genetic modification means that it is here but without consumers being able to decide and make a choice for themselves it is going to be very difficult, as we mentioned before, for the market to decide to what extent we have it. In the case of soya, it is already in 60 per cent of products without us really having any choice about it. I think the reverse of that is that before we do start to have all of these crops coming on to the market, if we do put in the proper controls now and make sure that consumers do have a choice and make sure that crops can be segregated and traced, then at least we can determine the extent to which it does have an effect on our diet.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

  150.  In your opinion do consumers accept a risk and a liability in purchasing and consuming food if the label says "genetically modified"?
  (Miss Davies)  I think it is important to separate out labelling and safety because when we have called for labelling of genetically modified foods we do not call for labelling on the grounds of safety. We think it is important that safety is addressed by the approval process and that when foods go on sale they are as safe as they possibly can be. We acknowledge that there is no such thing as a completely safe food and even with some of the traditional products that have been on sale there is always going to be a slight element of risk, but this is a new technology and it is happening at such a rapid pace that if anything should go wrong it would affect such a wide number of products and some of the changes could be irreversible. That is why it is so important to be cautious at this stage before we suddenly proceed even further with the technology. Labelling is really to do with making sure that consumers who do have ethical objections, or who are concerned about possible environmental effects, can choose whether or not they want to eat genetically modified foods. The safety aspects and the risk need to be addressed by the approval process and, as we have already mentioned, we think that could be tightened up to make sure that the risk they are taking is minimised further.

Lord Moran

  151.  You have just mentioned the question of labelling. I wondered whether you were happy with the latest Council agreement on labelling. Do you think it is adequate, from the point of view of the consumer, if labelling simply says that the product is genetically modified or contains genetically modified material, or do you think it should go further and give on the label the purpose of the modification, as I believe is the case in Canada at the moment?
  (Miss Davies)  In relation to the Council's agreement, we do not think the regulation does go as far as we would like it to. Our main concern is that it is based on whether or not you can detect DNA or protein in the final product. The first concern that we have is that at the moment the detection methods are not that advanced so they are likely to be developed further and become more sensitive, so it is not really a firm basis for the labelling requirements. It also means that a lot of products are still not going to be labelled. In the case of soya, genetically modified soya lecithin and soya oil are used in a wide range of products, and the research we have done suggests that consumers are concerned about genetic modification and want to know about whether genetic modification has been used, not necessarily whether it is there in the end product or whether it has been processed out before the final product goes on sale. The research that we have done asking people what they want from labelling shows that they want the labelling to be up front, they want it to be on the front of the packet to indicate whether or not it does include genetically modified ingredients. One of the interesting things that came out as well was that people felt quite strongly that there should be a symbol that could go on genetically modified foods so that they could easily identify whether or not something was genetically modified. That goes back to the issue of standardisation as well, so that when you are shopping in a hurry you know what you are looking at and it is on the front of the packet. Ideally we would like products to say how they have been genetically modified and hopefully that will happen. With the Zeneca tomato puree that has been on sale in Safeway and Sainsbury's they did do that. They put a little paragraph on the side of it to say how it had been modified but I think we have to acknowledge that as more products come on sale you could have a product that is going to have a wide range of genetically modified ingredients and so it might be impractical to give that kind of information for all the ingredients. I suppose the best option there would be to make sure that you have leaflets at point of sale so that consumers can find out more about it and that would have to be next to the product because quite often we have found that leaflets are provided but you do have to hunt quite hard for them in the supermarket or even phone up if you want to get a copy rather than just being able to pick it up while you are shopping. More generally, I think labelling needs to be backed up by clear information so that when consumers are choosing, they are really making an informed choice and that is going to be a crucial role for the Food Standards Agency: to make sure that consumers are given advice and information about genetically modified food so that they can decide for themselves whether or not they think there is a benefit.

  152.  You mentioned soya which has obviously been used in a great many products. I wondered if you thought it was going to be practical to have effective labelling to give consumers a choice, given the fact that something like soya is used in a huge range of products.
  (Miss Davies)  Soya has obviously caused a lot of problems and has been very difficult but we still think that segregation is possible. Some of the actions recently by some of the retailers has shown that it can be possible to find non-genetically modified varieties of soya and give consumers a choice about whether or not to accept it. What the retailers and manufacturers have decided to do, which we did welcome, was, in the case of commodity crops where they could not be absolutely sure whether or not something was genetically modified, to label it as genetically modified. That alerts people to the fact that they are buying genetically modified food but unfortunately, if you do have that kind of blanket labelling, at the end of the day you do not really have any choice. You know you are eating it but unless you want to avoid that type of product completely and cut out soya from your diet, then you are not going to have a choice. That is why at the end of the day it still comes down to segregation, although it has been difficult with soya, I think it is important not to give up as other crops are grown in Europe and come onto the market, and just assume that we cannot have segregation. We need to consider that early on when they are being approved to make sure that they are segregated as they are grown so that we can make an informed choice.


  153.  You mentioned that consumers want to know whether the process of genetic modification has been used in producing the product, not simply whether there is DNA present in the product, which is in principle testable, but whether or not the process has been used, which is often not testable, so how would you propose to make that a legal requirement that the label should say whether or not the process has been used? How could you test for that?
  (Miss Davies)  I think it has to come down to traceability throughout the food chain so that producers and retailers make sure that they know where they are getting their ingredients from. Traceability and segregation are not just going to be important on the grounds of consumer choice. As Miss Sheppard mentioned before, it is going to be important for safety reasons because if we ever found that there was a problem, for example if a product had been approved in another country that did not come up to the same standards as we would have here, we need to be able to recall that product if there ever was a safety problem. So we need to work out ways of ensuring better traceability all the way through the food chain.
  (Miss Sheppard)  There are already precedents for this in other areas of food labelling like free range, organic and so on, which are all based if you like on an audit trail and traceability. There are precedents there and we know it can work.

  154.  You can operate it within your own country. It must be more difficult in large internationally traded commodity crops, must it not?
  (Miss Sheppard)  Certainly soya has presented a very formidable challenge to all of us in terms of thinking through some of these problems, which is why really we need some mechanism for talking about these developments before they happen. We were equally guilty for not seeing these difficulties, whereas we should have had some kind of regulatory system in place that could anticipate the likely questions that are going to be raised for some things in train.

Lord Grantchester

  155.  I have seen it reported that the public acceptability of genetically modified food is partly dependent on whom they perceive benefits from the technology, whether it is done for their benefit or the farmers' benefit or the manufacturers' benefit. Do you think this is an important consideration to be borne in mind, bearing in mind that there might be implications for labelling? Do you think this is important for a public perception?
  (Miss Sheppard)  Yes. In terms of public perception we all make if you like our own amateur judgements about risk assessment, balancing risk against benefit whenever we make a purchase. Probably even very small risks are less acceptable to us as individuals if we perceive no benefit from that particular development. It does happen that this first wave of applications of genetic modification do not appear to have any tangible benefit for consumers. I think it is a great pity that although the technology may benefit growers they in turn need to think how that will impact on their customers, the final consumer. I am sorry: what was your question again?

  156.  With many modifications, the consumer will benefit but apparently indirectly, because if the crop is grown more cheaply it will produce cheaper food. My question was on how the public perceives genetic modification, ie is it for their benefit or is it for the farmer's benefit? Is that an important reason for the acceptability of genetic modification? Is that one of the reasons why it is categorised in certain ways, either for or against, rather than a blanket against the whole concept of genetic modification? My perception is that the public does have different perceptions. I am asking you to confirm whether your continued association with research reveals any trends for why genetically modified food is either looked at in a good light or a bad light. And, if it is true that it is looked at in different lights as to who benefits, whether that has any implications for labelling, for example, to say why something has been modified, so that the consumer can then make a choice, "I do not like that because it is not for my benefit" or, "I do like that because I can perceive that as to my advantage."
  (Miss Davies)  Our research does confirm what you say. When we asked consumers who they thought benefited most from biotechnology—and this is a survey that we did in May 1996—only seven per cent of consumers thought that they benefited most from genetic modification, whereas 47 per cent thought that the industry, whether it was manufacturers, retailers or farmers, benefited the most from biotechnology. I think it comes down again to giving consumers clear information about how products have been genetically modified so that they can make their own decisions about whether or not they think that there is a benefit for them and whether they think the benefits outweigh the risks.


  157.  We were told that the genetically modified tomato puree that sells in this country in some supermarkets sells at a price 20 per cent cheaper than the unmodified tomato puree. Do you not consider that to be a consumer benefit?
  (Miss Davies)  Yes, it does seem to be a benefit but when we did our research we asked consumers whether price would have an influence on their decision to purchase, and it showed that price did not really seem to affect their decision about whether or not to accept genetic modification. They did say that they wanted more information about genetic modification so that they could be making more informed decisions when they were choosing whether or not to buy them.

Lord Redesdale

  158.  You mentioned a survey and you have a graph on page 10 of your Gene Cuisine paper which seems to suggest that most categories said that under 40 per cent benefited and more than 50 per cent did not benefit. So most people considered that more than 50 per cent of consumers are not going to benefit from the changes.
  (Miss Davies)  Yes. Some people did not respond but overall it showed that most people thought that it would be the industry that would benefit rather than themselves. Some of them did see some benefits and I think they are mentioned there as well. The sorts of benefits that they mentioned were that food might taste better.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

  159.  How many members of your organisation are there and when you send out these surveys how many people do you actually invite to comment and what proportion come back with any views?
  (Miss Davies)  We actually have around 750,000 members, but when we do surveys we do not usually survey our own members because they tend to be slightly more informed than some consumers. We make sure that we do a representative sample that reflects the population as a whole. We have got our own survey centre which sorts out the sampling plan and decide which areas we need to go to. When we did the survey in May 1996 that I mentioned, we went to four areas around the country and we did face to face interviews with just over 500 people.

Chairman]  That brings us to the end of the questions that we had to put to you. We are extremely grateful to you both for having come before the Committee and answering all our questions fully and freely and for the excellent written material you sent us. Thank you very much indeed.

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