THE Co-operative Group is to launch its own consultation and inquiry into genetically modified foods next month, but won't be directly involved in the Government-backed national GM debate which began last week.
As the first of the regional GM Nation? consultations took place in Birmingham, Co-op Group spokesman Martin Henderson told the News that the Group's consultative exercise with members and customers will get underway next month.
A cross-section of Co-op shoppers selected from the Co-operative Bank's data base will be invited to take part in telephone interviews regarding their attitudes to GM food products, while Co-op Group members will be able to vote on the issue at meetings throughout the summer.
When the consultation exercise has been completed the Group plans to release a report on the issue in the autumn, which could be used as the basis for society policy in the future.
The results will show whether or not customers and members are happy for the Group to be associated with the cultivation or retailing of GM foods.
Said Mr Henderson: "The society's stance at the moment is that we will not sell or grow genetically modified material unless or until consumer opinion changes and there is sufficient scientific evidence to ensure the result of crop production and trials are transparent."
He added that the Group will not be providing official speakers at the GM Nation? workshops around the country, but said the society would be keeping a close eye on developments.
At the Birmingham conference, Pete Riley from Friends of the Earth appealed to the public to make their feelings known regarding the spread of GM food products.
Said Mr Riley: "People should take this opportunity to tell the Government they do not want GM food and that GM crops must not be commercially grown in the UK. These crops potentially pose a long-term threat to our food, farming and the environment."
In October, an NOP survey revealed that 57 per cent did not want the Government to allow GM crops to be commercially grown in the UK. The previous month a poll for The Grocer found that 58 per cent would avoid products containing GM ingredients.
Tom McDermott, Director of Public Affairs, at GM producer Monsanto Europe, believes farmers are interested in agricultural biotechnology.
A Monsanto survey of 15,000 UK arable farmers noticed a growing tendency to view genetic technologies in a positive light.
Mr McDermott said: "Farmers feel that they do not yet have all the facts about GM, but when giving the matter consideration are increasingly seeing the benefits of the technology."
Further information on the National GM Debate is at www.gmnation.org.uk.