THE Co-operative Group ? Britain's biggest farmer ? has announced that it will reject any Government proposals that allow the commercial planting of GM crops in the UK.
And, following a survey of members and customers, the Group has imposed its own GM ban across its businesses.
The society is saying no to: growing genetically modified crops on its own land; selling GM food under its own brand and investing Co-operative Bank customers' money in GM technology.
The Co-op Group announcement follows an NOP World survey of Co-op customers and members ? the first consumer poll following the results of the Government's GM crop trials and the GM Nation debate.
The survey found:
? 55% of people were against GM with 38% yet to be convinced of its benefits;
? 78% of people have yet to be convinced that the commercial growing of GM crops should be allowed in the UK;
? 51% of people continue to have concerns about the potential long term impact of GM on the environment;
? 78% remain unconvinced that GM food is safe to eat;
? 79% would not knowingly buy food containing GM ingredients;
? 61% would not eat GM food even if it was proved safe to eat;
? 30% thought independent scientists were the most trustworthy source for information compared with only 13% who specified the Government (but a further 11% mentioned the Food Standards Agency as trustworthy).
Co-operative Group Chief Executive Martin Beaumont commented: `We have listened to the experts on both sides of the debate. We have consulted our customers and members and evaluated available evidence. But, on the strength of current scientific knowledge, and the overwhelming opposition of our members, we are saying no to the commercial growing of GM crops in the UK.`
Added Mr Beaumont: `We would urge other consumer-led businesses to follow this precautionary approach. Too little is still understood about this technology and how it would impact on our environment in future generations.
`Let the science and research continue, but, unless, or until, the case is convincingly made, the Government has a responsibility to keep the lid on commercial growing.`
The Co-op Group's statement on GM has been welcomed by environmental and consumer groups including Friends of the Earth.
Spokeswoman Clare Oxborrow said: `Congratulations to the Co-op for listening to its customers and taking positive steps to keep Britain GM-free. We will now be looking for other supermarkets, businesses and major land owners to take action on this important issue too.
`The Government should take a similar stance following its public debate earlier this year which also showed massive public opposition to GM food and crops.`