John Prescott steered clear of the Brits this year and instead
showed up at the 10th British Environment and Media Awards to hand a
very topical special awareness award to Iceland’s chairman Malcolm
Walker for his company’s stance against genetically modified foods.
On receipt of the award Walker, referring to his fellow award winner
Anita Roddick commented: ’The Body Shop doesn’t test on animals, and we
don’t test on people.’
Indeed, while the jury is still out on whether GM foods are harmful, the
British public have become unwitting guinea pigs in what amounts to a
nationwide clinical trial without consent. A situation labelled by the
media quite rightly as a PR calamity.
While the Government preaches to local authorities to engage in dialogue
with its customers as part of the policy-making process, the UK public
have been delivered a fait accompli on the issue of GM food.
Sainsbury’s is reported to have identified 1,500 of it 10,000 own brand
products that include genetically modified ingredients or derivatives
and much of the soya or oils that enter the country are mixed with GM
versions. This is definitely a case of do as I say, not as I do.
The Government has obviously failed to learn its lessons from the
mishandling of the BSE crisis, and still doesn’t realise that public
reassurance requires more than an ill-informed oft repeated insistence
on safety. Even if Labour has a short memory, the media does not.
The Government has also underestimated the fleet footedness of lobbying
groups such as GeneWatch which has displayed its own rapid rebuttal
In addition, US companies such as Monsanto have singularly failed to
understand the sensitivities of this market, and have been too quick to
push the benefits of GM food without providing the information necessary
for consumers to make an informed choice.
Perhaps it is the size of the UK market that makes the public mandate so
powerful. Increasingly corporations are required to obtain a licence to
operate from consumers and the communities they operate in. On this
occasion the licence was not even sought, let alone granted.
With the supermarkets trying desperately to distance themselves from
foods containing GM ingredients, another plank in the GM defence has
As a result the media is having a field day whipping up mass
There is a danger that, without careful handling, the UK public will
never be willing to accept these so called ’wonder-foods’ even if they
prove as safe as houses.