Choices no one wants

November 2012

A woman smiling as she buys organic vegetables at a farmer's market
Garfield Farmers' Market in United States. Photo by heacphotos on Flickr
 In the United States, 78% of families say they regularly purchase organic foods (Organic Trade Association Study, 2011). The market for locally-grown foods is worth some $7 billion, with small farms (less than $50,000 turnover) accounting for 81% of sales (USDA Economic Research Service Report, 2011).

Clearly organic and local foods from small producers can no longer be considered 'niche' markets: a great many US citizens are choosing to buy them.

Every supermarket has an abundance of foods dedicated to customers with particular dietary preferences or requirements: 'healthy choice', vegetarian, vegan, halal, wholefood, wheat-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, fat-free, additive-free, low-salt, high-fibre, nut-free, sea-food-free, soya-free, egg-free, suitable for infants, superior quality, natural, fair-trade, free-range, non-GMO ... all with front-of-pack labels to make sure customers know what they are buying.

Every supermarket also has shelves in key positions filled with candy bars, biscuits, snacks and sweet fizzy drinks all in brightly coloured packs. Few of these manage to boast any health-promoting qualities, but sell very well nevertheless.

Put another way, there are organic afficionados, locavors, ethical consumers, fussitarians, gourmands, health-food freaks, food-allergy sufferers, junk food addicts. But there's just no such thing as a GMO-foodie.


The GM-food lobby is adamant that the cure for public rejection of biotech offerings lies in creating a crop with novel genes to make you healthy.

Is this logical?

Most people who have decided not to eat GM do so because they are uncomfortable with the genetic manipulation by humans that's involved in creating them. It's not possible for this attitude to translate suddenly into deciding GM food is safe just because the added artificial vitamin, artificial antioxidant or artificial fat is supposed to be good for you.

The recent revelations about an apparently innocuous herbicide-tolerant GM maize have rightly fuelled the distrust (see GM MAIZE IS NOT SAFE TO EAT - October 2012).

All the categories of foodies listed above have developed into large niche markets. With the exception of the junk-food addicts in the US who have stuffed themselves with processed GM ingredients for years and won't be interested in 'healthy' versions anyway, only a tiny, non-discriminating sector of the 'health-food freaks' are likely to be lured with GM 'health' benefits in their food. The inevitable conclusion is that there will be a very small market indeed for the proposed second-generation added-value GM crops. Such GM novelties also can't even pretend to be 'substantially equivalent' and will require a level of testing side-stepped by all the previous herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant GM crops: the reality of biotech foods is that their development costs much too much for niche market products.

All the signs are that GM is a blind alley. However, it's a fashionable and profitable blind alley which is wasting huge amounts of scientific expertise, time, money and other resources which could be developing natural and sustainable crops and agricultural systems for now and for future generations.

Tell the UK government to get the GM stars out of its eyes and spend your taxes on crop research which will benefit you and your children: they are wasting scientific expertise, money and valuable time trying to give people a choice no one wants.

  • Organic Consumers' Association, 'Organic Bytes' comment, 11.10.12
  • Seventy-Eight percent of US families say they purchase organic foods, and Locally grown foods generate $7 billion in sales, The Orgnaic & Non-GMO Report, Issue #119, December/January 2012

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