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The industry needs to be aware of this and should be keeping abreast of the changing consumer attitudes in the UK and Europe, according to Julian Little, chair of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council.
One independent retailer has suggested that these developments could be good for business. “If GM produce does take hold of the global market then supermarkets won’t be able to keep out of it,” says Georgina Mason, owner of Gonalston Farm Shop, Nottinghamshire. “At the end of the day, people speak with their purse, so if the larger chains are forced to buy into the GM concept, it could further differentiate ‘us’ from ‘them’, helping our trade of local, quality produce,” she adds.
Speaking at the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s conference, The Food Market in Turmoil: Strategies for Survival and Growth, last week, Mr Little told delegates that the number of consumers said to be concerned about GM produce now matches those who are indifferent about the subject. He argued that the figures, taken from a recent Food Standards Agency consumer tracker, indicate that people are starting to think GM food has a role to play in the current climate. “Peter Melchett [policy director of the Soil Association] tells us that there are no benefits to be gained from GM,” he said. “Actually, people do recognise that it has a place. We started to talk about GM crops in the aftermath of the BSE and salmonella outbreaks, but now consumers are thinking about food security and price,” he added.
China is already leading the way with a commercial GM surge. Chinese GM tomatoes, sweet pepper and papaya are now on the market, following successful field trials and environmental releases, and chillies, potatoes and cabbage are expected to follow suit. “China has a very good regulatory system, with 213 people at the top making the decisions. It has nothing to do with individual companies,” said Mr Little. “The Chinese no longer care about pre-regulations in the EU before they go ahead. They will not wait and we need to be aware of that in the food industry,” he added.
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