Meacher rages at Krebs' inaction on organic food (23/5/2003)

for more on Krebs' pro-GM , anti-organic drive:

Meacher rages at inaction on organic food
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Friday May 23, 2003
The Guardian

A refusal to promote or endorse the merits of organic food by Sir John Krebs, head of the Food Standards Agency, has enraged Michael Meacher, the environment minister, and he is writing increasingly strident letters demanding co-operation.

Sir John has stalled Mr Meacher for seven months, saying there is no evidence that organic food is better for the public, and remains unmoved despite a meeting between the two men.

In a handwritten addition to his most recent letter, seen by the Guardian, Mr Meacher says: "I am disappointed at your response following our meeting, and had expected, and am still expecting, a much more substantive and robust statement from you of the particular value and merits of organic production."

Mr Meacher's irritation follows months of requests to Sir John to organise scientific research to test whether organic food could have nutritional or safety merits over traditionally produced food, some of which has high pesticide residues.

Sir John, who promised he would do so last November, has so far failed to suggest any programme. In addition, the minister wanted more information on the FSA website about the possible benefits of organic food, but again there has been no action.

The FSA was set up as an independent body four years ago to reassure the public after a series of food scares. It was designed to champion the con sumer, give advice about quality, and be divorced from big business and agriculture.

Mr Meacher first wrote to Sir John seeking his help when he took over responsibility for organic food in October. He has the task of boosting the UK's organic production from 30% of existing demand to 70% by 2010, to cut the huge import bill, boost farm income, help the environment and satisfy consumers.

At that time, he asked for "positive, but factual statements" on the benefits of organic food because it avoided pesticides, additives and GM and was regulated for quality and purity. Mr Meacher also added that it had environmental benefits.

Sir John replied that the agency's position was that organic food was not significantly different in terms of food safety and nutrition from food produced conventionally. He said he had no environmental re mit. After more exchanges, the two met on January 15 but further letters from Mr Meacher complained that although Sir John had agreed to cooperate he had again failed to take any action. He also wanted to know what plans Sir John has to reduce pesticides in food.

In March, Sir John replied, saying he expected to be taking action "later this year" and since then Mr Meacher has had nothing further from him. In his latest letter, dated May 6, Mr Meacher says he has asked his officials to contact the agency's staff with specific suggestions about the website since the agency "has done nothing to promote consumer understanding."

Mr Meacher's hopes of help from the agency look bleak. Sir John's office said yesterday he had not yet formulated a reply, nor had he developed the requested research programme.

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