How to deal with the argument that we need to be ‘warned’ about GM foods.

I think it’s really important that we are given the information to make informed choices about what we eat. And that’s why food containing genetically modified ingredients should be labelled.

Oh. Do you think GM foods are dangerous?

I don’t know. Hey, nobody knows. And that’s why it should be there, on the pack, so we can make the choice for ourselves.

But you just said you didn’t know if GM food was dangerous. So how could you make an ‘informed choice’ anyway? And don’t give me this ‘we don’t know’ nonsense. Lots of scientists and government bodies have looked into GM foods and they’ve all found them to be safe. Hey, people in America have been eating them for well over 10 years. Clearly there is no problem with them. There’s no evidence that GM food, as it appears on our plates, is any different from ‘conventional’ food.

So if it’s safe, there’s no problem sticking a label on it. I’d prefer not to take a chance. If other people want to take the risk, that’s their choice. But they should know what they are eating.

A food label is rarely, if ever, a neutral piece of information. Every message comes with an underlying implication. They only list the fat, sugar and salt, for example, because they are supposed to be bad for you. So saying ‘this contains GM ingredients’ will be treated as a warning. And that’s exactly what greens and organic-loving foodies want you to do - see GM food as something potentially dangerous.

That’s up to you. You don’t have to read into something what others think you should.

Actually, in many ways it’s not up to us. You know, the real effect of food labelling is on supermarkets and food manufacturers. They may be 100 per cent happy that GM food is okay, but if they think even a small proportion of consumers will reject their products, they will take the GM content out. That’s what happened when the EU introduced GM food labels in the Nineties. Now, nobody in the EU can buy GM food because it never gets on to the shelves.

It’s ironic that foodies are pushing for this. Food campaigners are always banging on about Big Food controlling our choices, but it seems they’re not above manipulating that process themselves when it suits them. In this case, they are calculating that the precautionary approach of a small number of consumers, and from food manufacturers, will mean GM food disappears from the shops.

It’s funny you’re so annoyed about this. I thought you were all in favour of free speech and trusting people to make choices?

I am, definitely. But GM labelling is basically a lie. It’s implying that something is dangerous when it is not, and it is giving that message official backing. Actually, that’s the same with most food labels. I’ve no problem with telling people that if they suffer from, I dunno, a nut allergy then they should avoid a particular product. That said, even that has become ridiculous with ‘may contain nuts’ on just about anything. And it becomes ludicrous with those ‘traffic light’ labels. Red light - don’t eat this, it contains salt! This butter contains fat! There’s no evidence these things are harmful, they are normal parts of our diet, but we’re constantly alerted about them.

Rather than adding more labels to food, we should be scrapping as many as possible. Just about every one encapsulates some overblown food panic.

Providing information is not a problem, it can only be beneficial.

No, providing labels is expensive. It’s not just a matter of printing something extra, it’s all the paper trails that are created in ensuring that the right things get labelled correctly. It will put up prices even if nothing else changes. In fact, if you are a small producer - you know, the kind of fluffy, doing-it-for-the-love business that foodies love - then it will place a disproportionate burden on you.

This idea is far from harmless. If we end up losing access to GM foods in the process, we’ll have less efficient agriculture and that definitely means higher prices just when food is getting expensive for other reasons. Farmers use GM crops for a reason: they find they are easier to grow than non-GM crops. Going back to older methods will put up prices.

GM labelling is not about what is good for the majority of us. It’s a sneaky, backdoor way to deprive us of a valuable technology, a technology that’s only just starting to reveal its promise.

Arguing the toss, spiked style: GM food labelling, spiked plus