The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has announced the formation of an independent steering group to engage with consumers over genetic modification.
The agency said that it is forming the group in response a government request that it lead a dialogue project to explore the subject of genetic modification (GM) with consumers.
“This project will provide an opportunity to discuss with consumers their understanding of GM and what they think it might bring in terms of risks and benefits,” said an FSA spokesperson.
Professor John Curtice of the University of Strathclyde has been appointed as the chair of the group. With a long career in researching social and political attitudes, Professor Curtice has considerable experience in analysing consumer opinions.
The FSA said that the steering group will include stakeholders from a number of different areas. A spokesperson was unable to confirm exactly what groups will be included, however, saying that “the chair has only just been confirmed and it is it is far too early to speculate on who else will be asked to join the group.”
The spokesperson was also unable to comment on exactly how the group’s findings might influence government policy on GM, but said that the FSA is committed to transparency on the issue, and will publish updates on its website as appropriate.
The government is keen to understand current consumer attitudes towards GM food because the food industry has warned that it might not be able to maintain a GM-free supply chain in the future.
Non-GM ingredients already cost 10 to 20 per cent more than GM equivalents and some ingredients, such as soya, are very low in supply.
The situation is set to worsen over coming years. According to research from the European Union Joint Research Centre (JRC), the number of commercialised GM crops is set to increase from 30 to 120 by 2015.