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http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/environment/story.jsp?story=625943

Food watchdog is 'biased against organic food', says its own review

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor

03 April 2005

Britain's official food safety watchdog must review its controversial policies on GM and organic goods, a wide-ranging official review of its performance has concluded.

The review, carried out to mark the fifth anniversary of the founding of the Food Standards Agency, makes it clear that its support for GM and its attacks on organic produce has caused a widespread loss of confidence in its judgement and independence.

This conclusion is all the more striking because the review - conducted by Baroness (Brenda) Dean at the agency's invitation - is otherwise notably sympathetic to the watchdog.

The review vindicates The Independent on Sunday, which has long been critical of the agency's stance on both issues.

The FSA has been one of the most vigorous proponents of GM food - overwhelmingly rejected by the British public - while concentrating its fire on organic foods, whose sales are booming. It repeatedly refused requests by ministers to back a drive across Government to promote chemical-free farming.

After interviews with 129 "stakeholders" - including government ministers, MPs and members of the House of Lords, representatives of the food industry and consumer and public health groups - the report concludes that "the perception of the vast majority was that the agency had deviated from its normal stance of making statements based solely on scientific evidence, to giving the impression of speaking against organic food and for GM food".

It backs calls for the official watchdog to "revisit both areas", saying, "it is important that the agency addresses these consumer concerns."

Last night, Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, said: "Finally, the bias of the agency has been exposed - and by its own inquiry.

"Its promotion of GM foods failed to convince the public, while damaging its own reputation, but its attacks on organic produce have been constantly used by those with a commercial interest in trying to limit this environmentally friendly farming. We look forward to the agency reversing its outrageous and unscientific stance."