Organic farm groups slam 'misleading' precision breeding consultation

Organic farming groups are demanding a withdrawal and postponement of the current PBO consultation
Organic farming groups are demanding a withdrawal and postponement of the current PBO consultation

Organic farming groups have lodged a formal complaint against the Food Standards Agency following its 'misleading' public consultation process on genetically modified precision bred organisms (PBOs).

The complaint alleges multiple breaches of Cabinet Office Consultation Principles and misrepresentation of facts, with the bodies calling into question the integrity of the FSA.

The ten signatories – including Doves Farm Organic, Sheepdrove Organic Farm, Riverford Organic and Slow Food – say that the consultation information was "misleading, specifically regarding the nature of precision breeding and the science around its safety".

Given the number of concerns raised by the signatories, they are demanding a withdrawal and postponement of the consultation, which was launched on 8 November, until the issues are addressed.

The groups allege that the FSA 'seriously misrepresented' the results of its own public surveys, and a literature review it commissioned into detection of precision bred organisms, in order to "create a narrative designed to influence the outcome of the consultation".

Another concern emphasised in the complaint is the 'overly technical nature' of the consultation materials, "creating a barrier for the general public to engage and contribute meaningfully".

The organic farming groups contend that "accessibility and clarity are paramount for genuine public participation".

In addition, the complaint addresses the perceived lack of time allocated for respondents to comprehensively analyse the consultation pack and respond to the consultation, which was 8 weeks instead of 12.

It also argues that the timing of the consultation, coming over the Christmas and New Year period, will mean potential respondents may not be able to engage.

For businesses, the holiday period of one of the busiest times of the year and a significant source of annual income. Cabinet Office Principles specifically advise against consultations over holiday periods.

The complaint also criticises the FSA for failing to perform a full impact assessment on its plans to remove labelling and traceability from genetically modified precision bred organisms in the food and feed system.

The groups said: "The deregulation of genetically modified PBOs and the removal of labelling and end-to-end traceability in the food system will have a domino effect throughout the food system.

"[This will] affect non-GM, organic, artisanal and natural food producers who wish to avoid PBOs, removing consumers’ right to choose whether or not to purchase and consume these foods as well as farmers’ right to choose whether to feed them to their livestock."